The Time of Literary History: Reconsidering Modernity in an Indian Vernacular
By Farina Mir, Associate Professor of History, Director of the Center for South Asian Studies, University of Michigan
Monday, April 08, 201312:00 PM - 1:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Abstract: This paper considers two temporalities embedded in the writing of modern Indian literary history: one I call an “even temporality” and another that relies on narratives of rupture. Both have been central to the story of Indian literary modernity. On the one hand, literary critics and historians have naturalized literary modernity as an inevitable stage in the evolutionary process of Indian literary culture. On the other, they have relied on the rupture of colonialism as a key catalyst that produced Indian literary modernity. Through an examination of Punjabi literary history and culture, this paper questions both modes of writing literary history, and particularly the reliance in both on genre—and the novel in particular—as a key marker of literary modernity. Rather, through an examination of how Punjabi poets embedded notions of literary history within their texts, whether in the form of critical genealogies or other literary devices, it suggests that Punjabi literary modernity is better understood through a shift in sensibility that marks the rise of a self-consciously regional literary tradition. This was a shift that did not require new genres of literary production, using what would most readily be called “traditional” genres for conveying new forms of subjectivity. The implications of this argument about Punjabi literary culture, which I take to be relevant to the writing of Indian vernacular literary history more generally, include a shift away from such a heavy emphasis on genres as markers of modernity and “newness,” and a reconsideration of the role of colonialism in producing modern Indian vernacular literatures.
Bio: Farina Mir is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab (2010), winner of the 2011 John Richards Prize in South Asian history (AHA) and the 2012 Bernard S. Cohn Prize (AAS); and co-editor, with Anshu Malhotra, of, Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture, and Practice (2012). Both volumes engage her interests in literary cultures, religious dispositions, and regional history, and their intersections with broader currents in South Asian history and historiography.
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Sponsor(s): Center for India and South Asia