Indian Literature and Social Development: Theory, Practice and Community Impact
Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
in collaboration with
Sahitya Academi, New Delhi
(05-07 April, 2017)
Literature is known to resonate with the social conditions prevailing in a time and place. The writer's art is linked to a context and history in a myriad ways, some of which are narratives of communities, heroism of individuals, human relations, representations of events, biographies and ideologies. While critical work on Indian literature has copiously studied subjects of a range such as class, caste, gender, poverty, socio-economic compulsions, family, romance,and communities, a comprehensive and integrated analysis of creative literature across time and across languages has not been attempted much. The reason lies in the complexity of plotting such a matrix.
The proposed seminar will focus on the link between Indian social history and Indian literature charting the interactions between community life and creative writing. Not keeping only to mainstream and selected few texts from well-known writers, the seminar will expect to present a pan Indian perspective with a greater representation given to Indian languages and translations than is usual. In other words, the purpose is to build a platform for intellectual discussion on literature and social transformation. The scope of the seminar will be to explore historical periods, languages, emancipatory moments, national movement, dalit uprising, alternative sexualities and other such significant topics. The social and cultural impact of literature will be the focus.
Contextof Theoretical Frameworks
The relation between society and literature in contemporary theory has been explored through a few key perspectives which remain in dialogue with each other. Lucas Georg Lukácsin The Theory of the Novel (1914-1915) coined the phrase "transcendental homelessness", and defined this as “longing of all souls for the place in which they once belonged, and the 'nostalgia’ for utopian perfection.” His arguments about class consciousness and dialectical materialism led to a modification of his earlier stand and built his evolutionary thoughts on“historical realism” (1938). From that to the cultural materialist approach of Raymond Williams (Culture and Society, 1958) marks an irreversible track wherein society, literature and culture become inextricably linked. In parallel, the work of Michel Foucault in France, specially the text Madness and Civilization(1961) brought psychology into the ambit of discussing social construction of culture and language, making thereby a philosophical base for challenging the assumptions of ‘normalcy’, exclusions and inclusions.
The influence of the European thinkers found its resonance in India in the exploration of social reality that was structured rather differently from the West, caste being a major factor in the discourse of power. The early works of AshisNandy, for instance, began to critique the colonial imperatives that were assumed to have shaped Indian polity and he advanced the view that the counterforce of tradition interfered with the social constructions that were imposed by the decisionsofcolonial administration. Nandy, with his theory of the ‘intimate enemy’ (1983) has continued to delve into the intricacies of Indian literature and culture to attempt mapping a collective as well as individual psyche in interest groups in India, his work on cinema being an outstanding example.
Mention must also be made of SudhirKakar’s work which also examines the impact of colonial history and moves further into unravelling what stands paradoxically between one’s aspirations and achievements, as in The Inner World: A Psycho-analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India (1978). Later too, as in the collection titledThe Indian Psyche (1996) the canvas of analysis is the poly layered Indian society and a clash of interest exists between development gaols and individuated, culturally determined circumstances.
In other words, the history of thinking on the subject of ‘literature and social development’ showed some common theoretical frameworks in Marxist ideology but the Indian aspect of social stratifications led to thought provoking modifications, and the creation of regional paradigms.
The Contentions, West and East
By the 1980s, the emergence of postmodernist Indian Writing in English, specially the appearance of Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children(1981),signalled a confident literary and social identity by which the colonial past was brutally subjected to questioning. The voice from other languages in India was equally strong as in the work of Hindi writer Namwar Singh and Marathi writer BhalchandraNemade. Accepting the frame of Marxism but innovating within it, both the stalwarts created fresh vocabulary and concepts that rang true to their generation of readers.Nemade’s theory of ‘Deshivad’/Nativism (2009) , a term that negatesEnglish language learning and globalisation wishes to emphasise native heritage and history. At some levels the commonality with Indian English critics may be worth considering. Aijaz Ahmad’s bold incursions against the hegemonic control of Frederic Jameson is well known but let us recount that his book In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (1992) sharply rebuts the vocabulary and capitalist thought processes of a certain kind of American scholarship and interprets imperialism from a South Asian viewpoint.
Local and the global issues now
In a world saddened by the politics of trauma and terror, rendered helpless by climate change, beset with imbalances in equity principles, scholars in the ‘west’ and the ‘east’ are no longer as separated by ideological frameworks. Literature is recognised as a powerful tool for social analysis. Zizek’s notion of “ideological fantasy” has influenced a wealth of interpretations that keep the “political community” at the core. Borders and boundaries are fluid entities when migration, displacement, wars and refugee conditions move human subjects in the largest numbers ever known in history. Concomitant upon such transitions are changes in culture and in literary articulations. Furthermore, in a world troubled by more questions than it has answers for, a revival of interest in the philosopher Jacques Rancière is perceptible. His book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation(1991) was written for educators and educators-to-be. It strongly advocates a breakaway from conventional learning into a self-learning mode because institutions carry no meaningful history for the immigrant or the compelled traveller.
Should one add to this the voice of Ganesh N. Devy, the language activist who is bravely carrying out a nationwide People’s Linguistic Survey of India? Recuperating the roots of several languages in the post Sanskritic era, he reminds us of the lost links in the chain of Indian dialects and seeks to bring dignity to the undocumented oral traditions of this country. Devy’sessays ‘The Being of Bhasha’ and ‘Countering Violence’ pose a link between lost languages and the influence of globalisation (The G.N.Devy Reader, 2009). If the cultural diversity of India is surrendered, he sees little hope in the possibility of social cohesion and peace.
The Objectives of the National Seminar
Scope of the National Seminar
The relevance of the topic is significant against the backdrop of rapid and uneven globalisation, the pursuit of materiality, the erasure of tradition and the challenge to hegemonic orders. By exploring literary and cultural texts, it is expected that an understanding of the phenomena of social change in India will emerge, and a few lessons with it.This seminar expects to invite about 20 scholars over 3 days to present papers, panels and discussions to bring attention to the link between literature and social development in India.
Themes for presentations are indicated below but should not be limiting:
A limited number of participants will be invited for the seminar. We especially encourage young scholars to apply. Those interested in participating should send an abstract (500 words maximum) of the proposed paper along with their C.V. to the following Email IDs:
A limited number of participants will be invited for the Seminar. Those interested in participating should send (preferably by email) an abstract (500 words) of the proposed paper along with their C.V. to:
English Advisory Board of the SahityaAkademi,
New Delhi – 110001.
M : 09810065218
Indian Institute of Advanced Study,
RashtrapatiNivas, Shimla- 171005.
Academic Resource Officer,
RashtrapatiNivas, Shimla- 171005
The last date for submission of abstract (500 words) is 30 January, 2017. The Institute intends to send Invitation letters to selected participants by 20 February, 2017. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the paper not proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Hence, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers (English or Hindi), hitherto unpublished and original, with citations in place, along with a reference section, to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla – 171005 by 31 March, 2017. Style sheet for the submission of papers may be downloaded from the IIAS website http://www.iias.org/ content/shss.
IIAS, Shimla, will be glad to extend its hospitality during the seminar period and is willing to reimburse, if required, rail or air travel expenses from the place of current residence in India, or the port of arrival in India, and back.
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