Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Issues in Indian literary historiography

Way back in 1949, Rene Wellek raised a question that still keeps haunting us. “Is it possible to write literary history, that is, to write that which will be both literary and a history?” Words are not the only ones that change their meaning; critical terms also do. The term ‘literary historiography' formerly meant the methodology involved in writing the history of literature aka literary history.

Literature and Nationalist
: Writing Histories
of  Modern Indian Languages:
Edited by Hans Harder;
Social Science Press
Colluding triad
But with the advent of Foucauldian theories regarding the operation of power structures, and more recently with the foundational work of Homi Bhabha (Nation and Narration and The Location of Culture), followed by the recent writings of Sheldon Pollock and Aijaz Ahmad, the term has grown more inclusive to mean what has been grandiosely called “nonfictional meta-narrative” that attempts to redefine the history of a nation state using literature as one — if not the only — frame of reference.

Language, literature, and nation form a colluding triad but this simple formula cannot work in the case of India, which has 21 officially declared literary languages, not to speak of the 100-odd unscripted languages. With a multiplicity of languages and widely differing literary traditions, how can India speak of a single national literature?

Full review here Hindu

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