P48


Peripheral Modernity and the South Asian literary world 
Convenors:
Sourit Bhattacharya (University of Warwick)
Priyanka Basu (School of Oriental and African Studies)
Location:
Room 207
Start time:
27 July, 2016 at 14:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
2

Short Abstract:

How has South Asian literature of the last decades responded to the crisis in capitalist world-system? Papers sought that take "peripheral modernity" as analytical framework and focus on literary form, space, rights and activism, economic crisis, global literary marketplace, and comparativism.

Long Abstract

The 2008 global downturn has compelled the social sciences and humanities to refocus on the concept of "crisis" in capitalism and rethink the relations between "core" and "periphery." What is crucial to this era of crisis is the emergence of the BRICS countries and the corresponding shifts in the world system. Debates on world literature and comparitivism have been alert to these readjustments (Moretti, 2000; Orsini, 2003; Damrosch, 2005; Warwick RC, 2015) as well as the proliferation of the neo-social realist novel (Adiga, Hamid, etc).

Given the important place of South Asia in contemporary literary and cultural studies debates, this panel would like to interrogate the South Asian region through the lens of "peripheral modernity" (Parry, 2009). Is South Asia a periphery to the capitalist world system or has it set up its (associated) system of core and peripheries (enabled by the strategic and economic negotiations between India and other SAARC nations)? What role do 'social' components such as space, gender, caste play in understanding the peripherality of modernity? Could terrorism or civil war, petro-capitalism or religious fundamentalism tell us more about this specific arena of capitalist modernity? How do we situate the vernacular aesthetics or the contemporary popularity of white collar English novels in this? Finally, how are we making a "literary world-system" in South Asia through the international circulation and reception of Anglophone literature and awards? The panel invites proposals based on literary, visual, and performance-based texts to uniquely situate South Asian transformations in the past decades.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Priyanka Basu (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Paper short abstract:

Rabindranath Tagore has remained the “undisputable” core of Bengali literary- cultural practices thus marginalizing other literary modes and influences of performative modes on literature. This paper analyses this Tagorean “core” through the peripheral literary productions of Chandril Bhattacharya.

Paper long abstract:

"Has anyone seen the laughing face of Rabindranath?" In a response to this question (at a discussion in 2014 on Bengali humorous literature), columnist/author Chandril Bhattacharya pointed out how humour in Bengali literature was seen as "less accomplished" than the other literary forms. Tagore has remained the "unquestionable" core of Bengali literary and cultural practices, the most "undisputable" among his enthusiasts being his "standard" musical notation system and the literary style of his writings. This literary-musical standardization reflects what might be understood as Michel de Certeau's '"supersessionist" model for modernity' which shows a transition from orality to literacy (Caplan, 2011). As a subversive-responsive periphery to this "core" of the Bengali cultural world, this paper would analyse some of the writings and songs of Chandril Bhattacharya. Chandril's prose (as also his lyrics) exemplify a peripheral upheaval in terms of achieving a shock-effect through the use of extreme colloquialism, urban vernacularism and derisive humour. At another level this subversive prose allows a blatant critique of tradition and modernity in scrutinizing contemporary socio-political events by juxtaposing the two together. Walter J Ong (2002) shows how words are tyrannically locked in the visual field by the act of writing and thus becomes superior to the ephemerality of the oral. The Tagorean standard not only marginalized other literary modes but also the influence of performative modes on literature. Does Chandril's prose/lyrics recuperate those performative modes in its subversion from the periphery? Does it itself tend to become a "core" in the process? If so, how?

Author:

Arunima Bhattacharya (University of Leeds)

Paper short abstract:

This paper studies how the concepts of "core" and "periphery" are reconfigured in the narrative and the publication and reception of Ahmed Ali's Twilight in Delhi (1940) and Arvind Adiga's The White Tiger (2008), taking into consideration their disparate temporal and social contexts.

Paper long abstract:

My paper would like to consider Ahmed Ali's novel Twilight in Delhi (1940) along with Arvind Adiga's The White Tiger (2008) to question whether a stabilized construction of the "core" and "periphery" is at all possible. I will do this by looking at the narrative of the respective novels and associated politics of publication and reception. Ahmed Ali's novel connected the post-war scenario of English modernism with the literature of the subcontinent, insinuating thematic connections between the two literary and temporal traditions. Published from the Hogarth Press, the novel received high praise from the European metropolitan critical establishment and is considered a seminal text in the annals of Pakistani English Fiction. The paper explores the problematic interface between such validation from the colonial centre for a novel which formulates a critical repudiation of the colonialist enterprise.

Adiga's novel similarly gained international prominence after being feted with the 2008 Booker Prize. He questions class based constructs of the feudal economy that permeated the globalized metropolitan economy of Delhi. The novel projects Bangalore as the economic future of a largely agricultural economy. I would like to read the two novels to understand how the concepts of centre and periphery constantly reconfigure themselves in two distinct temporal and social contexts. Leading to an understanding of the way they affect and to some extent construct the paradigm of South Asian literary and cultural texts.

Author:

Dominic Davies (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will assess the comic form's ability to offer new political insights into post/colonial urban landscapes as specifically hyper-capitalist and deeply segregated spaces at this stage in the development of the world-system, focusing on the city of New Delhi in particular.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will assess the comic form's ability to offer new political insights into, and perspectives on, post/colonial urban landscapes as specifically hyper-capitalist and deeply segregated spaces at this stage in the development of the world-system, focusing on the city of New Delhi in particular. It will argue that what has come to be known as the 'graphic novel', especially in its now widely emerging sociopolitical or journalistic sub-genre, is becoming increasingly used both to represent and to analyse the multidimensional complexity and infrastructural politics of postcolonial city spaces. The article is informed by a talk and reading from Vishwajyoti Ghosh, author of Delhi Calm (2010), delivered at the second Leverhulme-funded 'Planned Violence' Network's third workshop, 'Colonial Continuities, Postcolonial Discontinuities', held at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi in October 2014, and will analyse Ghosh's long-form comic alongside Sarnath Banerjee's Corridor, A Graphic Novel (2004) and shorter comics such as Christopher Badoux's Cricket etc, collected in When Kulbhushan Met Stöckli (2009). Through readings of these graphic texts as formal responses to the increasing economic inequalities and uneven infrastructural developments of capital in the Capital, the paper will interrogate the way in which they map urban infrastructures in potentially subversive ways. Does this new multi-dimensional form contain critical, if not resistant strategies for alternative forms of inhabitation of the divided city-space?

Author:

Sourit Bhattacharya (University of Warwick)

Paper short abstract:

Mahasweta Devi's literary work situates a productive negotiation between historical-social reality and challenging representative strategies. Focussing on her novels and short stories, this paper attempts to read this negotiation through the analytical lens of 'peripheral realism.'

Paper long abstract:

Mahasweta Devi's literary writing prominently stages the interplay between state machineries of exploitation and adivasi (tribal) forms of resistance. These machineries range from resource extraction (minerals and commercially profitable forest products), deforestation to systematic exploitation of the adivasis: conversion to Christianity and Hinduism, money-lending and long term bonded labour, caste violence etc. Mahasweta's writing does not sentimentalize the case; it rather gives us a narration constituted of description, analysis, commentary and a highly complex narratorial investment in the irreal-supernatural that situate in them possible forms of adivasi resistance. This paper attempts to read this "mode" of documentation. It argues that this mode negotiates excellently between tribal "faith" in the "irreal" and a dispassionate judgement of the social-real, and produces a realism that is both historically aware of and sensitive to the peripheral forms of living and belief. The paper brings here the concept of peripheral realism, where periphery stands for the productive domain of the interface between the politics of the mainstream or core and the forms of living "coeval" with it. Taking from Fredric Jameson, Benita Parry, Rashmi Varma and the recent studies in Adivasi resistance, and focussing on Mahasweta's novels and short stories, the paper picks up certain features, state welfare, nationalist discourses, scientific research, adivasi "silence," religiosity, and the moment of the grotesque to situate the concept of peripheral realism which, it informs, can help meaningfully engage with the narrative complexities and ethical imperatives in Mahasweta and many of her peers.

Author:

Senjuti Chakraborti (Birkbeck, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Caste in modern India is both an archaic and a contemporary institution, existing paradoxically. The method here is to view caste as an 'incommensurable' category and see how successfully law addresses it in its commitment to justice. The central question is- who can be the subjects of justice?

Paper long abstract:

The concern here is 'social justice' with regard to the caste-question in India today. The paper asks - who are the subjects of justice? Is there a specific 'human type' corresponding to every regime of judicial or governmental administration? Prathama Banerjee writes, "Caste is both the most archaic and the most contemporary reality of India- a persistent but paradoxical presence in historical time." In my view such incongruous juxtaposition of social times postpones any direct discussion on caste- always waiting to become a full-blown political category and always having to be 'authorised' through race or class. To insist on the tenacity and topicality of caste a new annotated edition of Dr. Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste came out in 2014. However, its readership comes with harsh reactions, IIT-Madras being a recent example where, in May 2015, one of its study circles- 'Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle'- was derecognized for some time over allegations of getting 'too political'. In public spaces in India, caste is repressed, not discussed. But what such 'incongruous overlapping of social realities' (Parry, 2009) do generate is the category of 'incommensurables'. And this is also where the modern law, the chief political correlative of justice, enters the discussion. For the 'incommensurables' are precisely those 'differences' that are inconsistent with judicial or governmental calculation. Calling for what it is, the persistence of caste in the regime of equality before law can be one such 'incommensurable' that can bring law to task, and launch targeted discussions on social justice.

Author:

Arjab Roy (The English And Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad)

Paper short abstract:

The travelogues from the Red Corridor of India have redefined Travel Writing as a genre. They open up discourses on issues of democracy, development and displacement along with throwing light upon prevailing gender equations, power relations and the social hierarchies.

Paper long abstract:

Jameson, Harvey and Harootunian dissociated the notion of 'modernity' from the 'west' and linked it to capitalist world system whereby 'world literature' is "the product of a singular logic transforming all areas of the globe: one that yields important insight into the dynamics of modernity taking place on the semi-peripheries of the world-literary system." However capitalist world system is a complex phenomenon in which different strategies of capitalist exploitation and accumulation unfold separately as well as simultaneously giving rise to different forms of 'modernity'. Both USA and India, the centre of world capitalism and one of the semi-peripheries of the capitalist world system respectively, follow such strategies. In USA the objective is not to deprive people of their means of production but in India this is precisely the primary objective of the state-capital combination.

The efforts of the central and state governments of India including relentless use of force and propaganda to grab the resource rich 'red corridor' areas for the last two decades and the large scale Maoist-tribal resistance to these are to be seen in the above context.

The ongoing 'war' between state and Maoists for the control of 'red corridor' has produced a distinct travelogues by activists and journalists which have to be contextualized at this backdrop.