The Art of Multiculturalism: Bharati Mukherjee’s Imaginal Politicsfor the Age of Global Migration

Author:   Ronald Benedikter & Judith Hilber
Publisher:   GRFDT
Reviewer:   Deokar Mohini Arjun
Designation:   Intern

Ronald Benedikter, Judith Hilber (2018), The Art of Multiculturalism: Bharati Mukherjee’s Imaginal Politics for the Age of Global Migration: Published by SpringerBriefs in Sociology, ISBN 978-3-319-89667-0, Pages 142

Currently weare witnessing an ongoing global refugee and migration crisis. There are millions of people are leaving the home, city, and country and working as migrant workers across the world.Most of them subjected to exploitation, the multidimensional problem of multiculturalism and discriminatory treatment as a way of “unwelcoming people” but at the same time refugees have been welcomed.In this context, this book makes an original and timely contribution to a topic whose importance and need will continuously increase throughout the world.

Ronald Benedikter’s and Judith Hilber’s book is about Bharati Mukherjee, born in 1940 in Calcutta, India.She passed away in 2017 in the Manhattan United States of America (USA). She was an acclaimed American writer of novels on multiculturalism, globalization, and the postmodern condition. It focused on her imaginal world, as disclosed through literature and an interdisciplinary concept of art. She was an immigrant herself from India and then became a citizen of Canada and the USA. In this book, Mukherjee explored the internal culture clashes of her immigrant character, and also shared some experiences with the racial discrimination and xenophobia during this journey. She highlighted the relation between multiculturalism, global cultural alignment, and the role of politics and its impact on the migrant peoples. “Mukherjee was a genius in her own right, was a strong voice, charismatic character, and as energy-rich in imaginary power as in practical will (The New York Times wrote on the occasion of her death).

This book has six sections and highlights the contribution of Mukherjee for rethinking contemporary ‘Imaginal Politics for the Age of Global Migration’ in new ways through the literary work. It is about her search for new ways to translate the principles of literature and art into the socio-political sphere. It also described her imaginal world through literature and an interdisciplinary concept of art. She dedicated her work to nurturing “differences in unities” and “unities in differences” by the literature and painting as a tool. It aimed to inspire the creation of a “new society with outsiders or Immigrants” through “Imaginal Politics”. The basic idea of the book is that how could we understand multiculturalism only as a specific policy for the marginalized and disadvantaged? In short, can multiculturalism be understood, in a more inclusive way to bridge the gap between social cultures, populations, and strata, including residents and immigrants by imaginaries?

The introductory section provides an overview of the relationship between literature, art, and a reason-oriented concept of multiculturalism for the present age. It also highlighted the use of ancient Indian miniature painting techniques for highlighting western postmodern writing which was used by Mukherjee. In the introduction section, the authors gave a short overview of the intentions and contents of this book. Mukherjee’s core intention was the integration of “imaginal Politics”, social investigation, and humanization of politics through inner human experiences.

The first section begins with explanation of the idea of multiculturalism in the neoliberal version. Mukherjee said that it’s became an instrument for a retreat from overall solidarities and political responsibilities for social standard and welfare.In other words, the multiculturalism became an ideological instrument. It gives an overview about the practice of multiculturalism in 1970 to 1990s in western countries in the context of postmodern pluralism and decentralization. Mukherjee said that the idea and practice of multiculturalism had to go beyond the ideologies toward a new “social imaginary” capable of connecting minorities and majorities socially and culturally and which could be provided by literature and paintings. Benedikter and Hilber sheer lights on Mukherjee's opinion about the cultural minorities (immigrants).The cultural minorities should have an equal participation, support, and stimulation.She also talks on the equal narrative rights for the minorities particularly for non-traditional immigrants because she experienced racial discrimination herself.

The second section deals with the Hybridization of Art which is a core method of Mukherjee and is explored through various examples. Mukherjee strongly believes that restructuring imaginary “spaces” both within the self and in the social realm through literature. It can take inspiration from architecture, design, and an interdisciplinary science dedicated to complexity. She also believes in merging literature, and architecture in a broader and inter-disciplinary sense. 

The third section begins with a description of Mukherjee’s artistic agenda. “Fusion is a key term for the imaginary merging of the East and the West”. It is explained as a contextual dimension and social perspective by Mukherjee. The idea of “fusion” as a method of integrating different artistic disciplines like writing and painting as the socio-political utopia of a pluralistic multicultural society. However, the alternative raw material for such transformation of the various cultures brought by migrants. Another technique is an unique artistic characteristic is the literary employment of a technique that belongs to the 16th and 17th-century Indian court painting. 

The fourth section explores the tricks and procedures that Mukherjee smoothly applied to connect and integrate the Indian legacy with western postmodernity. She sheared light on the four crucial techniques for connecting the immigrants and the West. They are, Foreshortening Paralogy, Simultaneity Incommensurability, Polyfocus Dissemination, Demarginalization Decentralization Trace. In Indian miniature painting, the “foreshortening” is the perspective which is used for close-up and zooming in on the unseen or marginal details. The “Paralogy” means a method of rendering that contradicts logical rules. It is a technique to enlarges the particular sections in the picture, while shortening others. The Polyfocus Dissemination means a compressed, but at thesame time free floating world between “equal” emerges. The Demarginalization Decentralization Trace is a technique of the majorizing and minorizing of positions in paintings. This section explored the procedure by comparing the teachings of Indian Mughal painting with Western Postmodernism. 

The fifth section brings to the foreground the sources of the 20th century used by Mukherjee. One of the most important was the Pop Art of the 1960s, coined by Lawrence Alloway in 1958. Pop art is characterized by syntactic complexity (merging two forms of expression). It’s an interdisciplinary extension of media that becomes manifest in assemblages and collage.The familiarity of the subject and literal presence of the object by which paradoxically an alienation is achieved, and close connection with technology which mean that art and technology fuse or mutually transform each other and are not opposing rival. It was the core inspiration of Mukherjee taken from the art of storytelling in Indian Moghul miniature painting. She used Pop Art to merge the metaphoric with the liberal, like art with concreate reality including politics. Mukherjee did a comparative analysis of Pop Art and explored how it is inspirational after 400 years after the Moghuls? 

The sixth section, “Mukherjee and the features of multiculturalism as Imaginal Politics” glance at the features of multiculturalism through various examples. It highlights the interconnection of future art with technology for bridging the two cultures. Also, the section also explained the broader concept of multiculturalism and the potential fusion of modernism and postmodernism and the process of mainstream multiculturalism. It also provides the explanation about the relationship between mainstream culture and multiculturalism in a broader sense. Lastly, the authors underpinned the opinion of Mukherjee. For Mukherjee, multiculturalism was like postmodernism was a reservoir and receptacle of plurality, diversity, difference, and variety.

Lastly, Mukherjee highlighted the outlook of multiculturalism, radical pluralism, and the dangers of “Imaginal Politics” in the world. Where processes of de and acculturation occur on too broad a scale and in too short a time, counter-reactions occur. As seen in the recent re-nationalization of Western democracies and other countries around the world. It has marginalized the idea of multiculturalism in reflections on its too radical increase and impact. These reflections are taken very seriously by Mukherjee. In fact, they are considered critical. There is no novel or story of Mukherjee of the 20th century that does not dedicate a good part of its pages to mirroring and reflecting the dangers of radical difference. 

The last section is about the conclusion. It deals with the shifts in the perception and reality of applied multiculturalism since the 2000s, the recent shifting of the notion of multiculturalism in the framework for the refuse crisis, and the migration crisis in 2014. Mukherjee explained their opinion about the refugee crisis at global leveland migration crisis, combined with increasing mobility in the world. This section highlighted the changing framework of multiculturalism and its application as said by Mukherjee in 1970-90. 

Overall, this book serves to open up a new inclusive and boundary-transcending view on “Imaginal Politics”. This book is analytical, intellectually sharp, in narrative style, and has an original take. It is a very comprehensive and inspiring book with the simplicity and complexity of multiculturalism. It is characterized by playful, original, and highly accessible style, great accuracy, philosophical depth, and success in creating awareness about the necessity of “differences in unity” and “unity in differences”. The book is very engaging because the authors explore the new crucial viewpoints on the concept of multiculturalism with the combination of socio-political engagement with sophisticated aesthetic inter-and trans art texture. It is brilliantly plotted with a straightforward narrative structure and use Pop Art technique to enrich the book with pictorial elements wherever possible.

This book gives an important message that we must exercise inclusion, transcending societies by thinking of them as multicultural and global to eliminate forms of discrimination against immigrants and cultural minorities. It is an excellent book for educators, politicians, and cultural professionals for the inclusive study of multiculturalism and immigration where fiction, literature, and art infuse the socio-political aspects with new imaginaries. It would be helpful for all interested in contemporary writing, contemporary politics, and in achievements of a great female artist.



Review by Deokar Mohini Arjun

Deokar Mohini Arjun is a UGC-STRIDE Research Fellowship holder and currently doing her research on Health Issues. She did her Master of Social Work in 2021 from Shivaji University Kolhapur.

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