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Literary Theory Unit 4 Postcolonial Studies
Literary Theory Unit 4 Postcolonial Studies Notes cover all the exercise questions in UGC Syllabus. Literary Theory Unit 4 Postcolonial Studies provided here ensures a smooth and easy understanding of all the concepts. Understand the concepts behind every Unit and score well in the board exams.
13. How does Edward Said disclose the myths in the essay.
Ans: In the scope of Orientalism, Edward said aims to disclose the myths about the orientals, which were made up by the western “superior” people and provided the later with a sufficient basis for conquering the Orient. Firstly, Said argues that the distorted knowledge of the orientals and the Orient, which has develop into a tradition, stems predominantly from the distorted depiction of reality by the Europeans, who created their own untruthful and beneficial exclusively to them vision of the “inferior” Orientals. Secondly, according to Said, this ”profound knowledge” was used to justify and empower colonialism since the inferior Orientals could not themselves understand that what they really needed was the benefit of the Western conquest. In the third place, in Said’s opinion, the Europeans used their prejudice against the Orientals to create their identity as directly opposite to the Orientals, which endowed them with an exclusive right to subdue the static and ignorant Orientals. Therefore, it can be reasonably claimed that Orientalism highlights western misconceptions about the Orientals, which represent the West as completely different and superior to the Orient and exist as a solid background for American and European imperial and colonial ambitions.
The fact that draws meticulous attention in Said’s work is the concept of knowledge of the Orient. Said refers to Balfour, who mentions that knowledge of something goes together with the right to dominate it; that is why Balfour corroborates the inevitability of British conquest of Egypt: “We know the civilization of Egypt better than we know the civilization of any other country. We know it further; we know it more intimately. It goes far beyond the petty span of the history of our race”. As said reasonably remarks, Balfour associates superiority not with economic or military power but “our” or European knowledge of Egypt. It follows from this that if England knows everything about the Egyptian civilization, the former is superior to the latter.
(C) Indian Literature
VERY SHORT TYPE QUESTION & ANSWERS
1. In which book Aijaz Ahmad’s essay ”Indian Literature”: Notes towards the Definition of a Category was published?
Ans: Aijaaz Ahmad’s highly influential essay “Indian Literature”: Notes towards the Definition of a Category” was first published as a chapter in his seminal book In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (1992).
2. What is the main concern of the essay?
Ans: Ahmad’s essay is concerned with several issues of importance pertaining to the unwieldy category of Indian Literature.
3. What does Ahmad discusses in the essay?
Ans: Ahmad discusses theoretical and institutional problems encountered while talking of a separate entity such as ‘Indian Literature”.
4. Who coined the term Third World literature?
Ans: Fredric Jameson.
5. What is the perspective of Ahmad’s analysis in the essay?
Ans: In this essay, Ahmad’s analysis of the Three World Theory and of Third World Literature is done from a Marxist perspective.
6. What is the Ahmad’s ideology is the essay?
Ans: Ahmad has a radical materialist position and does not either detract from or add to the relevance or credibility of his argument.
7. What does Ahmad interrogates on Jameson?
Ans: Ahmad interrogates Jameson’s conception of the world as divided in three neat categories of the First World, second World and the Third World, and then his construction of the binary opposition of the First World and the Third World.
8. What does Ahmad argues in his book on Jameson’s theory?
Ans: Ahmad argues that there is no such thing as a theoretical category of Third World Literature, that it is not possible to construct such a category without being reductive.
9. What example did Ahmad gave on impossibility of constructing a theoretical category?
Ans: One of the examples that Ahmad gives for the impossibility of constructing a theoretical category of Third World Literature is that the vast majority of literature produced in Asia and Africa is not written in lie language of the metropolitan countries and is therefore unavailable to the literary theorist as she goes on to construct this category. Since it is only the rare literary theorist in the United States of America or Europe who has fluency in any Asian or African language there are major literary traditions from both these places that are completely unknown to the literary theorist.
10. According to Ahmad, what is the major difficulty?
Ans: The major difficulty, according to Ahmad, in creating a category of Third World Literature is the Three World Theory itself, and Ahmad addresses this question at length before turning to the issue of literature. For Ahmad, Jameson defines the First World as the capitalist first World, the Second World as ‘the socialist bloc’ and the Third World comprises ‘countries that have suffered colonialism and imperialism’. Jameson asserts that he using these terms in ‘as essentially descriptive way’.
SHORT & LONG TYPE QUESTION & ANSWERS
1. Define Third World Literature.
Ans: There is nothing called the Third World Literature. While the Third World is a catch all term for different countries in various stages of under development and generally with a history of colonial rule, they are all caught in diverse contextual matrices of their own.
2. What is the main concern of the essay?
Ans: Ahmad’s essay is concerned with several issues of importance pertaining to the unwieldy category of Indian literature. Ahmad discusses theoretical and institutional problems encountered while talking of a separate entity such as ‘Indian Literature’. The essay is written from a purely Marxist perspective as is typical of his other writing too, constantly making a case for reading texts in their materiality and resisting their appropriation by dominant and hegemonic discourses. Ahmad ultimately posits several methodologies that could be effectively followed to define the scope and characteristics of what could be authentically termed as ‘Indian Literature’.
3. Explain the hegemony of English language in India.
Ans: The hegemonic place of English language in India and the role played by colonialism in consolidating it’s privileged position in the country. His strategy is to juxtapose the views of people like Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Raja Rammohan Roy and Vivekanand to argue that the introduction of English did not elicit any straightforward rejection from such reformers and nationalist. In this discussion, he weaves in his advocation of comparative Literature as a discipline as well as a radical overhauling of English departments in the Indian universities. For Ahmad, the problem is not that English was “inserted into India in tandem with colonialism” but that “it is, among all Indian languages, the most removed, in its structure and ambience, from all the other Indian languages”. He rightly presupposes English as one of the Indian languages and argues that postcolonial theory has wrongly placed too much emphasis on English as a means of religious conversion of the natives into Christianity.
4. How Ahmad draws the attention to the central problems of the essay?
Ans: Ahmad draws attention to the central problematic of the essay right at the beginning hypothesizing that-“I find it all the more difficult to speak of a ‘Third World Literature’ when I know that I cannot confidently speak, as a theoretically coherent category, of an ‘Indian’ Literature’. His prime agenda in the essay is to lay bare, by the means of various examples from Indian literary history, the inefficacy of any form of “syndicated” (a term he borrows from Romila Thapar) approach towards Indian literature. Through this essay, there is resistance expressed against convenient piling up of individual histories of different Indian language in favour of a more nuanced narrativization which takes into account the difference and commonalities along various Indian literary cultures.
5. Briefly discuss D.D Kosambi and S.K Das models of research upheld by Aijaz Ahmad in his essay “Indian Literature: notes towards the category of Indian literature.
Ans: Aijaz Ahmad’s essay “Indian Literature: notes towards the category of Indian literature” looks into the complications associated with the category of Indian literature by making references to D.D Kosambi and S.K Das. He argues on the cultural and literary identity of Indian literature and sees it as a source of multiple language. Indian literature is not a distinct unity but a sum of various specific regional literatures created over a period of time.
Ahmad begins the essay by talking about the problems in constructing a category such as Indian literature; he makes a reference to Kosambi “the outstanding characteristic of a background bourgeoisie, the desire to profit without labour or grasp of technique, is reflected in the superficial research”.
Kosambi criticizes superficial research in India, it lacks efficacy which can produce a better understanding on Indian literature. Ahmad calls this statement ironic because the texts published in metropolitan countries display this characteristic of backward bourgeoisie. If Indian researchers are unable to define Indian literature then first World researchers are also unable to define and categorise third World Literature. Ahmad then counters Kosambi by listing the reason for poor classification of Indian literature.
The reason Ahmad lists are that there is no institutional support, the institutions are very limited and the research is done by individual scholars who dig up archives. The mediating language is English but it is not a fitting mediating language. English is unable to do justice to the ambience, totality or experience of the native. European tradition can be traced with the help of unified language, universities and libraries but Indian literature tradition can’t be traced since the texts are looked in isolated ways. Ahmad ends the essay by mentioning Kosambi once again. He praises Kosambi saying that, “he was able to produce is a single sweep of narrative of the empirical facts of ancient India and theoretical position, the very organic principle of narrativization from which narrative was to be assembled”.
Ahmad praises Kosambi’s link between political purpose and study. Ahmad says that when we engage in Indian literature then the insufficiencies are empirical and theoretical both and to achieve clarity in literature more writing should be done and rewriting should be minimized.
Kosambi’s analysis and understanding of Sanskrit literature was informed by his commitment to a social and political ideology rooted in Marxism. In his view, literature like science should be understood as function of the age in which it is produced. He tells us’ the great poet in a class society must not only express the position and aspirations of an important class, but must also transcend the class barriers, whether implicitly or explicitly and to be sure his most provocative statements on Sanskrit language and literature were about its class character statements he made in the context of the works of both Bhartihari and vidyakara. The use of historical materialism in reading literature and analyzing it from the class perspective is also seen in Kosambi’s study of the working class in the Amarakosha. Kosambi links bhakti doctrine enunciated in the Gita with the rise of feudalism and asserts that to hold a feudal society and state together the best religion is one which emphasizes the role of bhakti, personal faith even though the object of devotion may have clearly visible flaws.
Indian literature is not one or many but rather a whole where many sub systems interact and S.K Das has taken a systematic view of Indian literature which involves taking India literature together age by age and then viewing them comparatively. Das adopts a methodologically pragmatic where he works through development of a chronological history of literature. In this there are authors birth dates, translations, text composition, publication and classification in genres. Through Das’ method it is known that Indian literature is neither a unity nor is it a total differential. For Das Indian literature is something which expresses the Indian nation. Indian literature is complex; it’s related to geographical areas as well as with history. Ahmad does not speak of geographical proximity like Das. Aad is more concerned with the problems in defining the category of Indian literature however Das is concentrating on finding ways to construct such a category. Ahmad is conscious of the difficulty of separating a unified conception of Indian literature from Indian nationalism.
Ahmad mainly provides us with three reason for the under development of Indian literature, first, Indian literature doesn’t mean combining other languages, India has been a polyglot and multilingual society, the language is not particular to itself and one writer doesn’t write in only one language. Second is the problem of high brahmanical textuality. The texts we give emphasis to are texts coming from brahmanical point of view. Third is canonization, certain texts are privileged over others. Our sense of text is based on the dominant version of that text; plurality of text is not given importance since we are aware of only the dominant idea.
Ahmad is a Marxist and he shuns the post-colonial situation adopted by Edward said, for Ahmad Marxism is an effect of Orientalism, Ahmad wants to reclaim post colonialism and literature plays an important role in it. Homogenising of third World Literature is problematic. By categorising Indian literature under third World Literature reproduced them because then they are seen as a representation only of nationalism; because of homogenising of Indian literature under third World Literature, Ahmad proposes the difficulties faced by scholars in constructing a category of Indian literature. He makes references to Kosambi and Das to explore and explain his idea of problematization of the constructing of category of Indian literature.
6. Write a short note on Aijaz Ahmad.
Ans: Aijaz Ahmad is a well known literary critic and political commentator working in the tradition of Marxist literary criticism. He was born in India before his parent migrated to Pakistan after the partition. He received his education in Pakistan, and subsequently lectured in various universities in the US and Canada. At present he is the professorial Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, new Delhi. He is also a visiting Professor of Political Science at York University, Toronto. He has authored many books, among which is in Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures; Lineages of the present: Ideological and political Genealogies of contemporary South Asia; Iraq, Afghanistan and the Imperialism of our Time; on communalism and Globalization-Offensives of the far Right.
His most recent book is in Our Time: Empire, Politics, Culture which has published by Verso, London, in 2012. He is a consultant editor of the magazine Frontline and is a regular contributor to journals like the socialist Resister. The essay under study was published in his book in theory. In this essay, “Indian Literature’: Notes towards the Definition of a Category”, Aijaz Ahmad examines the theoretical category called ‘Indian Literature’ by questioning its ability to capture and explain the varied multilingual literatures of India. He argues that the concept of nationalism, as it appeared with the rise of the modern nation-state in the West, cannot be easily applied to the cultural production of non-Western societies since that would homogenize the radical diversity of India’s fluid geographical and cultural formations which, in turn, embody many diverse public aspirations.
The problem is that the concept of nationalism imposes the unitary logic of ‘nation’ on the multifarious character of these societies. Aijaz also brings under scrutiny the category of ‘Third World Literature’. It is very difficult, he observes, to consider together the literary and cultural productions of such rather diverse geographical spaces. The aim of the essay, thus, is to examine some of the most fundamental difficulties that we face whenever we make an attempt to posit a coherent unity called such as that implied in the category of ‘Indian’ literature in face of overlapping yet discrete histories of its major language-literatures.
7. Discuss the work of Aijaz Ahmad.
Ans: Aijaz Ahmad was an Indian-born Marxist philosopher, literary theorist, and political commentator. He was the Chancellor’s professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Humanities’ Department of Comparative Literature.
He was a professorial fellow at the centre of Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, India, visiting professor at the Centre for Political Studies, jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and visiting professor of political science at York University, Toronto, Canada. He also worked as an editorial consultant with the Frontline and as a senior news analyst for the news website Newsclick. In his book in Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures, Ahmad primarily discuss the role of theory and theorist in the movement against colonialism and imperialism. Ahmad’s argument against those who uphold post-structuralism and postmodernist conceptions of material history revolves around the fact that very little has been accomplished since the advent of this brand of postcolonial inquiry. The book contains an especially polemical’ critique of Fredric Jameson’s argument in “Third World Literature in the era of Multinational Capitalism” where Ahmad attacks Jameson on the grounds that Jameson’s argument is insufficiently theorized in its use of terms like “Third World” which appears to be defined purely in terms of its experience of colonialism. This in turn leads Jameson to make hasty and untenable generalizations about how all “third World Literature” would necessarily function as a national allegory that according to Jameson work as resistance to a system of global postmodernism.
Ahmad in his book expresses his chagrin at how his critique of Jameson has been appropriate by postcolonial scholars as an attack on Marxism, while Ahmad contends that he takes issue with Jeson simply because his use of Marxism in the essay on Third World Literature is not rigorous enough. This book contains a lengthy critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism which Ahmad argues reproduces the very liberal humanist tradition that it seeks to undermine in its selection of Western canonized texts that are critique for their Orientalism, as this upholds the idea that Western culture is represented in its entirely through those very texts. Further more, Ahmad asserts that by tracing Orientalist thought all the way back to Ancient Greece it becomes unclear in Said’s work whether Orientalism is a product of Colonialism, or whether Colonialism is, in fact, a product of Orientalism.
8. Discuss the three world theory or unitary world.
Ans: In place of the three Worlds Theory Ahmad makes the radical proposition that we live not in three worlds but in one. This is the world in which both sides of; Tamson’s binary opposition experience colonialism and imperialism, for Ahmad points out that imperialism is experienced within the United States of America as well. Today we live in a world in which societies are constituted by the division of class in the countries of backward capitalist as well as advanced capitalism. Also the most important aspect is that this is the world that is saturate by capitalism. Jameson’s definition is contained only within the First World, and the resistance to capitalist that is in his view restricted only to the socialism of the Second World. According to Ahmad, the different parts of capitalist system that pervade the world are not to be seen as binary opposites but as a contradictory unity when we break down the Three World Theory and think of ourselves all as inhabiting one world.
What would be the implications for literary theory of replacing the Three World Theory with one world? First, there would be no need to search for ‘a cognitive aesthetics for third-world Literature’; second, the idea of a meta-narrative, a master narrative, that encompasses the rich multiplicity of real narratives in the Third World would have to be abandoned; and third, it may turn out that many of the questions asked about the Urdu or Bengali literary traditions of literature are the same as those asked about Anglo-American literature and that a real knowledge of these traditions may force literary theorists in the United States to ask questions of their tradition that they had not asked before. Ahmad points out that Jameson, has already dismissed the idea of proceeding from the premise of a unitary world because according to him beginning from that premise would necessitate falling back into some general liberal humanistic universalism’.
That is, Jameson is afraid that the danger of considering a real unity of the world would be that could only be done through the process of homogenisation of all cultures and peoples, and would thus negate the specificity of cultural differences. Ahmad countries this objection with two arguments. First, that rather than viewing the world as being United by a liberalist ideology of humanism, a Marxist critic such as Jameson should be able to see that the world is United ”by the global operation of a single mode of production, namely the capitalist one, and the global resistance to this mode, a resistance which is itself unevenly developed in different parts of the globe”. (P. 103) The world is thus perceived as a unity because of the capitalist mode of production that controls/determines it and the resistance to capitalism through socialism. Ahmad points out that socialism is spread out over Asia, Africa, and Latin America and also exists without the US in groups and individuals.
The world is United, then, through the “ferocious struggle between capital and labour” which is now global in character. Second, Ahmad argues, it is Jameson’s to theory of the world neatly divided into a binarised opposition that erases the specificity of cultural differences and this ends up homogenising the world. The cultural heterogeneity within the Third World is suppressed because it is defined only in terms of its ‘experience’. Ahmad illustrates through several examples that Asia, Africa and Latin America do not have a common history, and do not even have a singular experience of colonialism and imperialism, which varied vastly from one culture to another, from one continent to another.
9. Give a description on Aijaz Ahmad and narrativizing Indian Literary Cultures.
Ans: Aijaz Ahmad’s highly influential essay ‘Indian Literature’; Notes towards the Definition of a category was first published as a chapter in his seminal book in Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (1992). Many of the essays published in this book, notably “Jameson’s Rhetoric of Otherness and the ‘National Allegory”, “Salman Rushdie’s Shame: postmodern Migrancy and the Representation of Women” and “Orientalism and After: Ambivalence and Metropolitan Location in the Work of Edward Said” were first published in various reputed journals. By Ahmad’s own admission, the chapter- “Indian Literature” too has its basis in seminar presentations held at Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1988.
[I] Ahmad’s essay is concerned with several issues of importance pertaining to the unwieldy category of Indian literature. Ahmad discusses theoretical and institutional problems encountered while talking of a separate entity such as ‘indian Literature’. The essay is written from a purely Marxist perspective as is typical of his other writings too, constantly making a case for reading texts in their materiality and resisting their appropriation by dominant and hegemonic discourses. Ahmad ultimately posits several methodologies that could be effectively followed to define the scope and characteristic of what could be authentically termed as ‘Indian Literature’.
This essay is field-defining for several reasons, not to mention the obvious implications that follow from its very suggestive title. Running over forty pages and nine sections, the essay addresses the central problem of defining Indian literature given its uneven historiography, the multilingual milieu of Indian culture, the mixed and sometimes fuzzy origins of various Indian literary genres and lastly, the status of English as a language in India. These question are complex and answers to them are by no means direct. While the attempt of discussing such a range of issue within the scope of a single essay does lead to some methodological inconsistencies (discussed in the later part of this essay), the achievement of the essay lies in its proposal of reading Indian literary production in a multilingual framework with an increased emphasis on comparison and interdisciplinarity as methodological tools in order to create their historiography.
The purpose of this essay is to delineate the ways in which Ahmad problematizes the category of Indian Literature. It also tries to critically analyse formal features of this essay primarily in terms of its organization of content and argument. Offering an insight into the strategies of argumentation used by Ahmad, this essay tries to explore its merits and contribution to Indian literary criticism. It would also try to highlight some of the methodological problems primarily related to Ahmad’s language and divisions of the chapter. Furthermore, this essay will try to analyze whether Ahmad’s hypothesis actually leads to s conclusion consistent with it or is it beset with ideology contradictions. Finally, it attempts to locate Ahmad’s essay within a certain brand of India literary scholarship that has dealth with the questions of Indian literature arguing that there is a certain inconsistency (especially in Ahmad’s essay) when it tries to address the question of “unity in diversity” of Indian literature, falling into the same essentialist trap which they seek to oppose.
10. Define the basic premise of the chapter in your own words.
Ans: The basic premise of the chapter is that the category of Indian literature cannot be spoken in unitary terms. Therefore, it is an exploratory foray to chart out methods through which the complex layers characteristic of Indian literature can be understood. Ahmad draws attention to the central problematic of the essay right at the beginning hypothesizing that “I find it all the more difficult to speak of a ‘Third World Literature’ when i know that I cannot confidently speak, as a theoretically coherent category, of an ‘indian’ Literature”. His prime agenda in the essay is to lay bare, by the means of various examples from Indian literary history, the inefficacy of any form of “syndicated” (a term he borrows from Romila Thapar) approach towards Indian literature. Through this essay, there is resistance expressed against convenient piling up of individual histories of different Indian languages in favour of a more nuanced narrativization which takes into account the differences and commonalities along various Indian literary cultures.
Apart from the recognition of various heterodox traditions that constitute Indian literary cultures, Ahmad also points to the urgent need for systematic recuperation of various literary forms and traditions. He argues that owing to “unreliable modes of transmission” such as orality, the complex process of development of Indian languages is not understood in its entirety. Modern Indian languages have solidified absorbing various overlaps and influences that are characteristic of languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Tamil and Malayalam. Ahmad cautions against accepting all that is canonized as :Indian Literature’ in the following words- “gaps in knowledge, as we as the great fluidity and unquantifiability of what is known, should be chastering for anyone who sets out theorize about ‘indian Literature’. He implicates Orientalists like schlegel and Winternitz as well as nationalists such as Aurobindo Ghosh in the project of privileging classical Sanskrit texts known for their spiritual and religious overtones.
11. Explain the role of English language and colonialism in India.
Ans: Ahmad also discusses at quite some leght the hegemonic place of English Lang age in India and the role played by colonialism in consolidating it’s privileged position in the country. His strategy is to juxtapose the views of people like Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Raja Rammohan Roy and Vivekanand to argue that the introduction of English did not elicit any straightforward rejection from such reformers and nationalists. In this discussion, he weaves in his advocation of Comparative Literature as a discipline as well as a radical overhauling of English departments in the Indian universities. For Ahmad, the problem is not that English was “inserted into India in tandem with colonialism” but that ”it is, among all Indian languages, the most removed, in its structure and ambience, from all the other Indian languages” (250). He rightly presupposes English as one of the Indian languages and argues that postcolonial theory has wrongly placed too much emphasis on English as a means of religious conversion of the natives into Christianity.
For Ahmad, English is carrier of modernity and technology which, however, is responsible for the creation of a class of intelligentsia actively engaged in the translation of literary texts-from English language to other Indian languages and vice versa. Given the fact that most of the translation projects involved English and atleast one Indian language rather than translation between other Indian languages, English becomes the language in which ‘indianness’ gets articulated. Such translations tend to get canonized leading one to believe in a highly selection range of ‘Indian literature’-one that significantly leaves out the relatively untranslatable i.e. the oral and performative cultures of India.
Ahmad moves on to point out the shortcoming of public institutions in India as far as meaningful research work in the field of Indian literature is concerned. In this respect, he posits the unsuitability of English as a medium of translation, the pressing need for specialist and multilingual intellectuals. He draws categorical attention to the groundswell of material support required for revamping these institutions.
Another problem that he draws attention to is the overlapping of genres that constitute Indian literary cultures. Ahmad suggest the need to assemble ”genealogies of genre” because the question of proliferation of certain genres and exclusion of others is linked to the question of dominant ideology, the question of what Ahmad calls “the politics of transgressing and containment”. A clear charting out of the histories of various genres is also important in the context of print capitalism for many of the genres existing prior to it were largely multilingual as well as oral. It is through the delineation of such problems that he arrives at his own suggestion about the construction of a category of Indian literature which, given its heterogeneity and size cannot be uniform and yet be nuanced and holistic. The methodology which he ultimately posits is one which is comparative and interdisciplinary. In this respect, he strongly suggests that “Literary study in our time and place…needs to be transgressing….against ‘English’ and against ‘Literature’. What he seeks to propose is a narrativization of Indian literature through a deep comparative study across discipline such as Anthropology, Philosophy and History.
12. According to Ahmad the study of English language and literature in India should be a part of the larger discipline of Historical and Cultural Studies. Why? Discuss.
Ans: The study of English language and literature in India, according to Ahmad should be a part of the larger discipline of Historical and Cultural studies. The methodology of research in which a discipline would encourage study on English in meaningful relations with other Indian languages. Such relations must be recognized not only with the respect to English ‘language’ but also across similar knowledge patterns scattered in literature written in various bhashas. A project of such kind that wins Ahmad’s approval is Sisir Kumar Das A History of Indian Literature- a comprehensive compendium of histories of Indian languages and genres put together side by side in comparative fashion.
While processing this crucial role in English must play in modern India, Ahmad also looks at the typical Indian literary critic in the present scenario who is quite different from the one belonging to an earlier generation. His methodological strategy is again the juxtaposition of the different kinds of pressures and motivations that drove each in order to make a larger argument about the “professionalisation” of the academia. Ahmad criticizes the “increasing Americanisation of the profession” which requires academics to publish in journals largely keeping in mind what topics would be ‘marketable’. On the other hand, Ahmad seems to be expressing nostalgia for a typical bilingual Marxist literary intellectual who was “an activist…he would teach English in accordance with the English literary canon but write not criticism, not English, but poetry of fiction in his own Tongue”. Ahmad’s analysis of the academia is only partially correct as attempt to show in the last segment of the essay.
Ahmad’s essay is in large part about languages and methodologies. An examination of these aspect with respect to his own essay ‘Indian Literature”: Notes towards the Definition of a Category” is particularly worthwhile. The essay makes use of several examples discussing the complex histories of several Indian languages. He brings in vast knowledge of such histories also in the form of detailed endnotes. An interesting case in points is one of the endnotes, which details the manner in which Farsi had come to be aligned less with its Iranian origins than with Hindi, owing to the large number of translation work carried out in this language. Farsi came to be known as ‘Subuk Hindi’ loosely translated as ‘refined Hindi’, which was closer to Sanskrit in terms of the prestige, it commanded than other Indian languages. This alerts us to the intricate ways in which languages tend to overlap and take different forms in the Indian context.
13. Discuss the idea of Indianness in the essay.
Ans: Apart from this, the essay makes the reader revisit the idea of ‘Indianness’. It talks about treating ‘Indian literature’ in a vocabulary which does justice to its challenges. Ahmad radically hypothesis that the idea of Indian literature must be analized in all its complexity with a primary focus on the gamut of Indian languages the works of which must be translated into each other facilitated by proficient and multilingual scholars in Indian institutes. The essay definitely acts as a point of reference, even though one may ultimately contest Ahmad’s positions as one is acquainted with newer literary works produced in India, those that are produced in the North-Eastern states, the Delits, women, testimonies by Partition refugees, LGBT community as well as the radical works of the Progressives. What one witness in these is an extreme diversity than any unity which could be spoken of or pinned down to certain basics.
When Ahmad along with the others such as Sasir Kumar Das talk about the diversity of Indian literary cultures, they also imply at the same time that it is however possible to speak of certain factors that bind these cultures. But their works (especially Ahmad’s essay, as I have argued) do not spell out or clearly enumerate the points of such intersection or commonality. This central contradiction of these authors, and in the context of my essay, Ahmad’s essay on Indian Literature leads to a tension between celebrating the electrician of India while still being in search of the essential. His point about the need for mutual translation work between other Indian languages without the intervention of English is valid to a large extent, although not completely feasible.
One also tends to feel that Ahmad’s bemoaning of the invisibility of the older kind of intellectual who could deeply feel the distance between the two linguistic cultures he embodied must give way to celebrating (albeit with caution) the role of English as a language of facilitation. The fact that English has, to a large extent, well assimilated as part of Indian cultural scene, it is quite possible that certain authors and intellectuals may not feel the kind of linguistic cultural distance with it as Ahmad argues. Indian English novelists and poets such as Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy and Nissim Ezekiel articulate as much ‘Indian’ concerns as have authors writing in Indian languages.
What is therefore required is not to treat English as ‘superior’ language owing to its colonial roots and hegemonic influence but rather to see it at par with Indian languages through a conscious process of, what Makarand Paranjape calls “vernacularization” (Paranjape 91). The wisdom lies in using English to our own ends by facilitating a dialogue between other Indian languages through translations between them. It would include articulating themes which are closer to Indian realities, writing in English which reflects our cultural specificity (famous example being Raja Rao’s Kanthapura or even Amitav Ghosh’s novels in the present scene), and most importantly, engaging with Indian literary critical traditions in meaningful ways rather than writing works which are more imitations of the West. Insofar as Ahmad’s essay propels the reader to think deeply, even change one’s position vis-a-vis his own essay and provide logical standpoints from where one could argue and analyze contemporary Indian literary scene, this essay does remain a successful and (for all its resistance to definition of a category), a field-defining one.
14. Write about Aijaz Ahmad’s dilution of literary theory.
Ans: Ahmad himself was a product of those times which saw massive decolonisation and the formation of nation-states all over the world. He believed in identifying with class, gender, history, resistance, political struggle and, above all, human liberation and praxis.
In his numerous essays, he held French philosophy responsible for destroying activism with excessive textualism, and Marxism with postmodernism. Ahmad was so provocative in his condemnation of the lack of commitment shown even by academics like Edward Said and his fellow-Marxist Frederic Jameson, that it set in motion the publications of a number a book as well as a full issue of the distinguished journal, Public Culture, in response to the arguments outlined in an Theory.
He had, indeed, ruffled the feathers of many jet-setting academics because he was not someone who cared to choose his words cautiously. He hauled up star philosophers openly, naming them as he denounced their politics of non-committal inactivity. Over and over again, Ahmad maintained that those who did not believe in absolute truth were not capable of being honest intellectual with some degree of agency.
With that, Ahmad was also a trenchant critic of global capitalism which, no doubt, Left academics are, but with a difference. In his later writings, he began to believe that universities had become more like markets and malls; where theories were sold to unsuspecting students who were then turned into free-market consumers.
These theories (meaning, of course, postmodernism and poststructuralism) had a limited ‘self life’-quite like global capitalism-amd so, contemporary education was complicit with global capitalism when it spoke of constant erasure, diversity and diffusion. This, for Ahmad, marked the utter and complete breakdown of causes, citizenship and identities, which it was important for nations to maintain and for universities to promote in order to maintain the connect between ‘theory’ and real life.
Ahmad was, at all times, mindful of what Marx lacked and highlighted the same by drawing attention to some pressing social and cultural issues of our times. For instance, despite his critique of soil depletion due to capitalist agriculture, Marx did not underscore the innumerable ways in which capital defiles the earth. He believed that socialism would profit from the “progress” of capitalism; a view reversed by the evo-disasters of our times.
Marx did not censure colonialism enough and had little awareness of the implications of racism; although, to be fair, he vehemently condemned it. On feminism, he wrote almost nothing and took domestic chores for granted.
Ahmad tried his utmost to remedy these shortcoming, arguing always in favour of a new progressing movement, underpinned by a valuable resource for an open and participatory form of socialism. A leading Marxist thinker, he espoused a tenacious resolve to reinvent a people’s government that seeks to redress not only the pressin issues of feminist politics and ecologica disaster, but also envisaged a civil society built on the principle of egalitarianism and a political system that supported views inconsistent with customary assumptions.
He had the ability to relate with the problem at hand through the critical practice of coalescing theoretical analysis with practical observation, always validating his conclusions with references to history and everyday life.
15. Briefly outline Ahmad’s position on English and English Literature departments in his theorisation of ‘Indian Literature’.
Ans: For Ahmad, English is carrier of modernity and technology which, however, is responsible for the creation of a class of intelligentsia actively engaged in the translation of literary texts-from English language to other Indian languages and vice versa. Given the fact that most of the translation projects involve English and at least one Indian languages rather than translation between other Indian languages, English becomes the language in which ‘Indianness’ gets articulated. Such translation tend to get canonized leading one to believe in a highly selection range of ‘indian literature’-one that significantly leaves out the relatively untranslatable i.e. the oral and performative cultures of India. Ahmad moves on to point out the shortcoming of public institutions in India as far as meaningful research work in the field if Indian literature is concerned.
In this respect, he posits the unsuitability of English as a medium of translation, the pressing need for specialists and multilingual intellectuals. He draws categorical attention to the groundswell of material support required for revamping these institutions. Another problem that he draws attention to is the overlapping of genres that constitute Indian literary cultures. Ahmad suggests the need to assemble “genealogies of genre” because the question of proliferation of certain genres and exclusion of others is linked to the question of dominant ideology, the question of what Ahmad calls ”the politics of transgression and containment”.
A clear charting out of the histories of various genres is also important in the context of print capitalism for many of the genres existing prior to it were largely multilingual as well as oral. The study of English language and literature in India, according to Ahmad should be a part of the larger discipline of Historical and Cultural Studies. The methodology of research in such a discipline would encourage study of English in meaningful relations with other Indian languages. Such relations must be recognized not only with respect to English ‘language’ but also across similar knowledge patterns scattered in literatures written in various bashes. A project of such kind that wins Ahmad’s approval is Sisir Kumar Dais’s a History of Indian Literature- a comprehensive compendium of histories of Indian languages and genres put together side by side in a comparative fashion.