Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The unity of discrete literary formations

Genealogies of Indian Literature P P RAVEENDRAN Economic and Political Weekly June 24, 2006
Indian scholars who have theorised Indian literature in diverse ways in the 20th century include K R Srinivasa Iyengar, Sri Aurobindo, Krishna Kripalani, Umashankar Joshi, V K Gokak, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Sujit Mukherjee, Sisir Kumar Das, G N Devy and Aijaz Ahmad. Most of these scholars with the obvious exception of Aijaz Ahmad, whose sensitive and highly nuanced elaboration of the category of “Indian literature” is in effect an acknowledgement of the impossibility of positing such a category, arrive at the broad possibility of conceiving an Indian literature either as the expression of an essential Indian culture or as the unity of discrete literary formations.
The reformist-nationalist- modernity projects that were under way in all parts of India in the early 20th century acted as a great unifying force at this juncture. So did the progressive literary movement (Indian Progressive Writers Association, IPWA), which launched in 1939 a journal under the title New Indian Literature from Lucknow. Since its inception in 1954, the Sahitya Akademi, under the tutelage of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was also the first president of the Akademi, has been propagating the idea of the unity of Indian literature by using the slogan “Indian literature is one though written in many languages”. The title of the Akademi’s journal Indian Literature, echoing the name of its short-lived IPWA forerunner, is more than symbolic in this sense.
That Indian literature as a theoretical category was constituted in the 19th century would nowadays be disputed only by bigoted adherents of cultural revivalism. Many thinkers of liberal persuasion can be seen, sometimes explicitly, but more often implicitly, to be opposing this bigotry. Sisir Kumar Das’s move in publishing the last two volumes, the ones pertaining to the period since 1800, of his projected multi-volume history of Indian literature can be read as an implicit criticism of this bigotry. ppravee@sify.com

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