‘Vernacular’ Theorisations of ‘Literature’ in Modern South Asia
The panel discusses 'vernacular' theorisations of literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. We ask what ‘modern’ ideas of literature, literariness, and literary history were and how they were generated by synthesizing disparate vocabularies – Sanskritic, Persianate, Western – in inventive ways.
· Anirudh Karnick PhD Student, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, United States of America)
In the introduction to Literary Cultures In History, Sheldon Pollock forcefully insisted that the argument that literature can be anything is an ahistorical essentialism. Scholarship about literary South Asia since has had to take into account how literature was conceptualized at a particular time and in a particular place – to not equate textual materials with ‘literature’ and to not take language or region as self-evident categories. It has had to try and work out the ‘emic’ perspective on what ‘literature’ is.
The importance of this corrective in the study of ‘pre-modern’ literatures is self-evident. However, what strikes the contemporary reader of ‘modern’ South Asian literatures (roughly from 1850s onward) is how unformed, contested, and un-self-evident, the concept of ‘literature’ has been for critics, poets, and historians of even this period. While old forms were retooled and new forms forged during this time-frame (the novel, lyric poetry, the satirical essay, life-writing), a rich meta-discourse also emerged about these practices in the histories of literature and language, prefaces to poems and fiction and other kinds of para-texts. This meta-discursive language drew on Sanskritic, Persianate, and ‘Western’ vocabulary, but interpreted and synthesized these in inventive, sometimes idiosyncratic, ways, besides foregrounding corpora and authors formerly outside the pale of ‘literature’ (e.g., Kabir in Hindi; Lalon Fakir in Bangla).
We solicit relevant contributions from scholars working on such ‘vernacular’/‘regional’ conceptualizations of literature, literariness, literary history and aesthetics in the context of modern South Asia.
- "Social Prosperity" through Literature: Ramchandra Shukla, Literary Theory and the Construction of a Democratic Nation State (Philipp Sperner)
- A Stranger’s Homecoming: Arzu’s Persian in Mir’s Urdu Poetry (Sumaira Nawaz)
- Articulating the Tamil Modern: Debates in Tamil Literary Criticism (Kiran Keshavamurthy)
- Hari Narayan Apte's Concept of Vidagdha Literature (Prashant Bagad)
- Jujhaar: On the Poetry of Revolution in Punjab, 1960s-70s (Aditya Bahl)
- Kavitā and Sāhitya in early 20th C. Hindi literature (Anirudh Karnick)
- Prefacing “Modernism”(s): On the Nature and Purpose of ‘Adhunik’ Bangla and ‘Nayi’ Hindi Poetry (Judhajit Sarkar)
- The Limits of Freedom in Nirālā’s Early Poetics (Paresh Chandra)
- The Limits of Literary Progressivism: Kesari Balakrishna Pillai and his Project of Modern Malayalam Literature (Anju Parvathy Biju)
- ‘Sounding Out’ Tradition: The Formulation of an Experimentalist Poetics in Agyeya’s Preface to the Doosra Saptak (Radhika Prasad)