Engagement: Pankaj Mishra should give it a try

pankaj_mishra+akrEngagement: what does it mean? I have often noted a disconnect with friends in France on the subject (engagement seems to boil down to intellectual debate in France, where we Americans set our trust in volunteerism and social activism, even if our enthusiasm for mass politics has waned). Based on those exchanges over the years, I thought that the American media had a better grasp of the matter. An article in today’s New York Times Book Review is thus disappointing. Pankaj Mishra claims that “The writer chronicling political events in fiction is most effective when participating in a historical process or movement. No such tonic immersion is available to most contemporary writers, who, as sequestered as ever, must strive alone to transcend the general impoverishment of the political imagination.” This seems incredible to me. Mr. Mishra, according to Wikipedia, divides his time between London and India. And he has found no meaningful way to engage in the contemporary scene?! If those of us who live the American heartland have ways to engage and feel the “tonic immersion” of historical process, why can’t he?
Engagement begins at home. Being a mentor to an at-risk adolescent and teaching language arts to first-generation college hopefuls from the African-American community in South Bend, Indiana, where I live, are two of the ways that I have made meaning out of my life, and discovered the excitement of participating in historical process. I think Mishra has developed an exaggerated sense of history’s unfolding. History is what we make, every day, wherever we are. There is a lot of hope, struggle, and need all around us, and things are happening all the time. I hope for his sake that he finds his way back from self-imposed authorial “sequestration” and joins the living.

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