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Tracking Modernity: India’s Railway and the Culture of Mobility Paperback – March 7, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"In Tracking Modernity, Marian Aguiar demonstrates a compelling grasp of the complex discourses around and about India’s railway and its imbrication in the contested discourses of modernity, mobility, and migration. Aguiar offers both a panoramic and a concentrated view of the many modes of representation of the scene of the train, the spaces of the train, and the railway platform. Historically grounded, theoretically sophisticated, and clearly articulated, Tracking Modernity takes us on a journey through the Indian landscape as it changes from colonial depictions, to postcolonial destinations constantly underlining the violence and terror that the train conjures for the Indian imagination alongside its endless capacity for restless movement." —Sangeeta Ray, University of Maryland

About the Author

Marian Aguiar is associate professor in the Literary and Cultural Studies Program of the English department at Carnegie Mellon University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (March 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816665613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816665617
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,829,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
"Tracking Modernity" is a breath of fresh air in cultural criticism. The author has clearly assimilated the lessons of cultural studies, colonial discourse analysis, and historiography, and produced an insightful reading of the history of the railway and its representations in India from the colonial period to the present. But Aguiar is not content to repeat familiar turns of argument, and this is what I enjoyed the most about this book: its innovative approach to the subject of mobility. Yes, the book is clearly written as an academic study, and as academic studies go it accomplishes a great deal. Unlike many academic books, this one actually delivers on the promises it makes in its introduction, and its range is incredibly capacious: from colonial times to contemporary terrorist attacks in Bombay, from Kipling's short stories to Slumdog Millionaire, from the nineteenth-century organization of mass populations to contemporary investments in mobility and movement. All of this, and Aguiar still manages to reflect on the philosophical implications of the railway's history, and analyze the cultural work done by images of mobility. This is an important piece of cultural criticism, an excellent model for what interdisciplinary work should look like, and I learned more from it than most academic books I read.
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Format: Paperback
The University of Minnesota Press has released an academic social/cultural history of India focusing on perceptions of the Indian railways in which author Marian Aguiar, an associate professor in Literature and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon University, interprets modernity through the legacy of this transformative technology. She does this by reviewing the portrayal of the railway in selected fiction, nonfiction and movies, which are listed in the extensive bibliography and filmography at the end of the book. Although many of the works cited in the bibliography are not well known in the United States, a few are, such as the works of Paul Theroux, which the author discusses near the end of Chapter 4.

The publisher introduces the book thusly: "Since the colonial period in India, the railway has been idealized as a rational utopia--a moving box in which racial and class differences might be amalgamated under a civic, secular, and public order. Aguiar charts this powerful image into the postcolonial period, showing how the culture of mobility exposes this symbol of reason as surprisingly dynamic and productive. Looking in turn at the partition of India, labor relations, rituals of travel, works of literature and film, visual culture, and the Mumbai train bombings of 2006, Aguiar finds incongruities she terms "counternarratives of modernity" to signify how they work both with and against the dominant rhetoric."

The book presumably builds on the author's 2000 dissertation "Tracking Modernity: Writing the Rails of Empire" which reviews selected literature from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
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