Ambedkar and Other Immortals produces urgent interpretive realignments which provoke in us the capacity to receive a new, vital wound of thinking: the wound of Ambedkar-thought. In the same way Althusser’s work marked a philosophical return to Marx, and Lacan’s to Freud, Choudhury makes a ‘return’ to Ambedkar guided through by Alain Badiou’s philosophical system.
Ambedkar, the activist and politician, is upheld as a thinker with supreme fidelity to the “norm of equality”, a figure in a long line of immortals from Pericles and Abbé Sieyès to Toussaint L’Ouverture. This wager on equality is undeterred by its continuous absence on the ground, and claims that recognizing the persistent logic of subjugation itself opens up the space for a universal articulation for emancipation.
Soumyabrata Choudhury is Associate Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has authored Theatre, Number, Event: Three Studies on the Relationship between Sovereignty, Power and Truth, and articles on ancient Greek liturgy, the staging of Ibsen, psychoanalysis, Nietzsche, Schiller and Hegel.
“I cannot praise this project enough. Not only is it, as far as I can see, a crucial intervention into Indian ideologico-political debates—what fascinated me is how it breaks out of the confines of the ‘East–West’ dichotomy by placing Ambedkar in series with Pericles, Aristotle, Abbé Sieyès and others, as an exemplar of radical egalitarian logic.
What we get is a reading of Ambedkar through Badiou, and I love the Maoist formulation of ‘Ambedkar–thought’, a universal thought actualized through an individual, a universal thought with a singular name of a person. The egalitarianism also holds for the relationship between East and West (and other parts of the world): they are a priori posited as equal. The struggle is not between East and West, it is internal to each culture—in India, it is between Ambedkar’s universalism and brahminic tradition, in the same way that in France, the struggle was between ancien regime and the new revolutionary order.
The way in which Soumyabrata Choudhury defines Ambedkar as ‘Europeanist’ is for me the most radical rejection of Eurocentrism: Ambedkar is (what we usually associate with) ‘Europe’ (European emancipatory legacy), but re-invented in India in an autonomous and unique manner.
Finally, I find incredibly forceful the idea of the community of ‘immortals’—mortal people personifying an immortal Idea.”
—Slavoj Žižek, Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana