About the Book
This book provides a critical reading of trends, texts and authors belonging to the broad field of Indian literature from a theoretically informed perspective. It deals with the conceptual and methodological issues concerning the constitution of Indian literature as a domain of knowledge. Inasmuch as the essays constituting the volume interrogate - most of them directly, and some by implication - the canonical views on the categories of 'India', 'literature' and 'Indian literature', the book can be said to represent a critical attitude that has till recently been admitted only into the periphery of literary debates. Consideration of Indian literature from a self-consciously non-dominant position is what the book attempts by raising questions about politics, theory, history, genealogy, location, culture and translation with reference to Indian literature.
Though literary and cultural texts from several languages are used for this purpose, the central argument has been elaborated with the support of texts and authors from two specific literatures: Indian English literature and Malayalam literature.
The topics that are discussed in the book include issues concerning modernity, nationalism, colonialism, textuality, historicity, identity and diaspora. For this, the work draws upon a broad range of writing by such authors as Raja Rao, Jayanta Mahapatra, Shashi Deshpande, Kamala Das, Mahasweta Devi, OV Vijayan, Meenakshi Mukherjee, Arundhati Roy, CV Raman Piliai, Kumaran Asan, MT Vasudevan Nair and Ayyappa Paniker.
Basic to the work is the understanding that both the Indian literary canon and the methodologies of reading it, as they have come down to us, are products of a historical process that has unfolded itself in certain ideologically programmed ways. A critical debunking of this ideology is what is attempted in several of the essays in this volume. The result is a refreshingly new perspective on Indian literature that is both sensitive and radical at the same time.
About the Author
P.P. Raveendran is currently Professor of English, School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam.
This book provides a critical reading of trends, genres, authors and texts belonging to the broad field of Indian literature from a theoretically informed perspective. It deals with the conceptual and methodological issues concerning the constitution of Indian literature as a domain of knowledge. An important aspect of the book is its focus on literary genealogy: literary history elaborated with a sensitivity to the hierarchies of power operative in society. Consideration of the problem from a self-consciously non-dominant position is what the book attempts by raising questions about politics, theory, history, location, culture and translation with reference to Indian literature. Though literary and cultural texts from several languages are used for this purpose, the central argument has been elaborated with the support of texts and authors from two specific literatures: Indian English literature and Malayalam literature.
The argument of the book has lived with me for more than a decade. So have the essays forming its chapters. A good many of them have their origin as papers and lectures given at seminars and conferences arranged by cultural studies groups and university departments of literature, history and philosophy. Over the years I have shared the ideas expressed here with several of my friends. It is to them as well as to the seminars on aspects of Indian literature held at various places, especially in the universities at Calicut, Delhi, Heidelberg, Hyderabad, Jadavpur, Kalady, Kottayam, Leiden, Pondicherry, Poona, Rajkot and Surat as well as at Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, that I owe the initial impetus for these essays. I remember with gratitude the friends, too numerous to name here, who have responded to my arguments in these seminars and who have set me thinking further on the problems discussed. Earlier versions of some of the essays included here have appeared in such journals as Critical Practice, Economic and Political Weekly, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Indian Literature and Littcrit. A substantial portion of the essay on Jayanta Mahapatra appeared as the introduction to a collection of his poetry, and the chapters on Ayyappa Paniker and Meenakshi Mukherjee are reproduced here with minor modifications from published collections of literary criticism. I am thankful to Mahapatra, Mukherjee and the late Paniker for their cordiality and the sense of filiation that they have always inspired in me.
The essays have been updated and in most cases considerably revised in order to make them fit in with the overall plan of the book. Part of the revision was done while I was holding the Baden- Wuerttemberg Fellowship at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg in early 2005. I am thankful to my friends at the South Asia Institute, and especially to Monika Boehm-Tettelbach, my host, for the help and support that they have rendered.
Let me thank Deepa Krishnamurthy of Orient Blackswan, for her meticulous and painstaking editorial interventions. Thanks are also due to my colleagues and students, both past and present, at the School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, for their good will. My wife Sherine has shared not only her good will, but her critical sensibility as well in giving shape to this book. So has my daughter Aparna, whose candid criticisms of a down-to-earth kind have perhaps saved me from taking the book too seriously.
This book is about contemporary Indian literature, about the poetics and politics that have shaped its history and cultural practice over the past two hundred years. Inasmuch as these poetics and politics are implicated in colonialism and other forms and processes of capitalist social development, it is also a study of India's literary and cultural relations both among its constituents and with the rest of the world in the age of capitalism, colonialism and postcolonialism.
Basic to this work is the understanding that both the Indian literary canon and the methodologies of reading it, as they have come down to us in the postcolonial world, are constructs produced as part of a historical process that unfolded itself in certain ideologically programmed ways. A critical reading of this ideology is what is attempted in several of the essays here, and this has been done from a broadly culturalist and materialist perspective. I deliberately avoid using the term 'cultural materialism' in describing this enterprise because of my fears about the inevitable ruptures that arise when a schematized critical method from a certain tradition is enlisted in identifying the specificities of discourses generated in other contexts. Literary theory can be as much ideological in orientation as creative literature. There is, however, no mistaking the theoretical sympathies and critical alliances with a range of positions from contemporary cultural theory that I bring to bear here in mapping the contours of the literary India of the last two centuries.
Since the term 'modernity' is invariably invoked in discussions of the Indian literature of this period, the reader might expect some initial clarification regarding the nature of the issues raised here with reference to it. Indeed modernity has always been, even in the days of high modernism, a difficult concept to define for literary scholars and social scientists alike, and ever since thinkers started talking about the superseding of modernity by the new environment of postmodernity in advanced capitalist societies, the debates around modernity have taken on a new complexity. While modernity was once looked upon as a robust willingness to "disrupt the received relationships within the social,"! current debates indicate a climbdown from that position, with the climate of economic liberalization and globalization taking away the cutting edge of that willingness. A recent conference of Asian and European scholars organized with the aim of formulating ways of resolving tensions between tradition and modernity in the period of globalization in the region provided new and diverse ways of understanding modernity, but in ways that defiantly excluded the above willingness. The different interpretations that modernity received from the speakers at the conference included "free market economy, capitalism, Americanization, globalization and development in general." Looked at from specific perspectives, all these interpretations are quite valid. Certainly, built into the development agenda of advanced capitalist countries are strategies that may not be to the advantage of the countries described as third world, and this is where one feels compelled to talk about dimensions of modernity that are more pertinent to third world societies like that of India.
This is a complicated issue, as the moment we start talking about an Indian modernity, there develops an internal schism within the concept, because modernity is understood from the very beginning as a universal and universalizing mindset. Though the presence of this schism might at first appear as a methodological flaw, there is no cause for one to worry too much about this, as it is this schism that characterizes Indian modernity, and in a sense even constitutes it. It is through this schism that traditional ideas make their unobtrusive entry into modernity and it is this schism again that acts as an effective bulwark against the forces of Eurocentrism dominating colonial modernity. European modernity, after all, implies only a social renaissance, part of a society's relentless and "ever renewed effort at self-definition by rejection of a past," as the German theorist of reception, Hans-Robert Jauss, was to describe it. In the case of India and other postcolonial countries, on the contrary, modernity also means, apart from the rejection of what is unhealthy in the past, an effort at a redefinition of the self by a recovery from the past of the memory of what really constitutes their history and cultural identity. This is a difficult process, one that is marked by tensions and contradictions, taking place especially in the contemporary world situation, in a site that is shared by cultural agencies that have diverse, even antagonistic, ideological and economic interests. It is the schism in modernity mentioned above that acts as an effective buffer against the pressure emanating from these tensions and antagonisms.
Among other things, modernity as a concept has been described as a secularizing process, where secularism carries with it the suggestion of a belief in this-worldliness. When Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri define modernity as a "discovery of the plane of immanence, it is precisely to this secular dimension of modernity that the two social scientists are calling attention. This is important in a review of the modernity project in India, because of the pivotal role that the decentered cluster of cultural symbols and images drawn from its diverse constituents can play in what Rustom Bharucha describes as the "secular imaginary" of the society? Indian modernity differs from its western counterpart, basically, in maintaining a critical relation with a pluralistic tradition of cultural values as an aspect of the modernity project. This aspect of modernity can be seen to characterize the constitution in both senses of the term, the constituting bodies as well as the written constitution - of the nation, though the state itself cannot be said to have always acted in consonance with its spirit. Indeed there have been systematic attempts recently to wreck the multi-cultural fabric of the nation, and if the nation has succeeded in thwarting them, it only proves the maturity and relative success of the modernity project that is in place in India.
The above reference to the relative success of the modernity project in India need not be treated as constituting a contradiction of the concepts that are at times regarded as coming from a loosely-defined 'postmordem' or 'postcolonial' worldview perceived to be represented in parts of this book. This is because I do not believe, contrary to the assertions of many self-proclaimed postmodernist and postcolonial thinkers, that modernity has been the cause of the several ills that afflict India today. One need not lean on a theorist like Jurgen Habermas to see that modernity has indeed led to much material progress in Indian society. That it has also led to the opening up of the world vision of a good majority of the citizenry is also transparent. On the other hand, one does not need the support of a critic of modernity like Michel Foucault to learn that modernity has also acted as an oppressive agency of the dominant classes in marginalizing several de-voiced segments of the social spectrum. This is the dialectic of the modernity project that has rendered it both radical and reactionary at the same time. Incidentally, a range of contemporary theorists, alternatively damned or praised - depending on the perspective of the viewer - as postmodernist with no regard for the drift of the individual theorist's specific arguments, have pointed to this dialectic as instrumental in constituting the identity of the modern subject.
As I argue in some of the essays in this volume, the operation of this dialectic has been very crucial in the constitution of the modern Indian subject. This is important in tracing the trajectory of the subject participating in the practice of Indian literature as authors and as readers, and even as characters, because it is an already fractured subject that gets entry into the texts of modern Indian literature. The concrete manifestations of this fracture are multiform. Indeed
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