Autonomy is commonly linked to liberal individualism, the Enlightenment philosophy which gives primacy to personal existence and interests rather than to the person's place in society and in history. Many see the autonomous individual as harbouring the possessive mentalities of western empire. In this groundbreaking work, Esha Niyogi De radically questions this foundational anti-Enlightenment position on which influential models of Postcolonial critique are based. She argues that the 'individual' has been creatively indigenized in non-western modernities: indigenous activist individuals attentive to empire and gender refuse possessive individualism while they invest in certain ethical premises of Enlightenment thought. De weaves her radical argument through a rich tapestry of gender portrayals drawn from two transitional moments of Indian modernity: the rise of humanism under colony and the influx of neoliberal capitalism.
This book emphasizes the feminist challenge to sexual and racial orthodoxies posed by critical imaginations of the 'autonomous woman' in postcolonial cultures by studying autobiographical texts by nineteenth-century Bengali prostituted women; point-of-view photography; woman-centred dance dramas and essays by Rabindranth Tagore; representations of Tagore's works on mainstream television, video, and stage in India and Indian American diasporas; and feminist cinema, choreography and performance respectively by Aparna Sen and Manjusri Chaki-Sircar.