Review ID: CBB554061136

Review of "Toxic Histories: Poison and Pollution in Modern India" (2017)


In Toxic Histories: Poison and Pollution in Modern India, David Arnold sets out to trace the complex and contingent processes that have shaped the shifting knowledge and practices relating to poisons and poisoning in India. Arnold’s aim is to establish that local toxic cultures have distinct histories, and these histories need to be explored in an age of deepening “global toxicity,” even while he interrogates Orientalist stereotypes that in the western imaginary associated India and Indians with an “Oriental appetite for poison” (7).Arnold’s book begins with an introduction that is nuanced and compelling in its broad sweep. It discloses how toxic histories have multiple, overlapping genealogies that are anchored in questions of knowledge and power and that serve also as critical precursors to recent social and environmental concerns about poisons and pollution in India. Arnold argues that these histories are embedded in the politics of inclusion and exclusion of bodies, populations, and identities, which in turn have shaped knowledge of poison and its uses. In the first chapter, he traces the knowledge of poisons in precolonial India from early poison lore going back to antiquity and from mythologies that shaped understandings of body physiology and of poisons as cures; he explores the invocation of poisons in Hindu myths and Sanskrit scriptures, which were rich in poison narratives; and finally, he looks at the political imagery of nationalist and reformist writing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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Book David J. Arnold (2016) Toxic Histories: Poison and Pollution in Modern India. unapi

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