Comparative Literature in India: Contemporary Issues

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Centre for Comparative Literature, UNIVERSITY of HYDERABAD
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University of Hyderabad
Hyderabad, Telangana, India – 500046
National Seminar
Comparative Literature in India: Contemporary Issues
18-19 March, 2015

Concept Note
'The comparatist has to know that comparative literature is a method of investigation while world literature is a body of valuable literary works'(Das 96).
Despite this, the term 'comparative literature ' remains ambiguous to many practitioners, students and scholars in India, who , one would expect, are familiar with the debate surrounding the discipline because it addresses the crucial issues of pluralism and cultural democracy in the subcontinent. The purpose of this seminar is to specifically address this space, which has existed in a disciplinary formation in India since 1956, but arises, as has been pointed out above, from the plural horizons of culture shared across the continent. The concept of comparative literature in India received an impetus from Rabindranath Tagore's lecture delivered on the subject when he was invited by National Council of Education in 1907. But the idea of Comparative Literature suggested by Das, a practicing comparatist, is different from the idea expressed by Tagore. Studying Indian literature demands a comparative method, and this cannot be substituted by the direct application of any method or theory imported from outside the plural culture in which the literature is located. Hence the 'mainstream' of Comparative Literature practice may have suggestions to offer the Indian comparatist, but the task of finding the method for Comparative Literature in India - not an 'Indian' Comparative Literature, for often enough we may have to question the very basis of methods laid down by the 'mainstream'- lies with us. This would qualify it be an academic discipline.
We may place the idea of Comparative Literature in a broader perspective by reading it alongside the 'history' of the discipline elsewhere in the world. As academic discipline it emerged in the recent period. The term 'litteratur comparee' was first used by Villemain, a French scholar in 1829. The Indian situation may be contrasted with these endeavours in that India is multicultural and multi-linguistic. In such scenario, an 'inter-literary condition' used by Amiya Dev to describe Indian literature, is the norm rather than the exception. Since the basic objective of comparative literature is to counteract the hegemony and the
professed autonomy of national literatures, by shifting the theoretical focus towards plurality and dynamism. We imagine that the minimum requisite of a comparative study is to start with at least two literatures. But as Das has reminded us, Comparative Literature is a method, not an object of study - hence we are interested in how to study literature: how literature, i.e. what we are studying, is created or produced, and how it elicits from us the responses that makes it 'literature' rather than a text of the social sciences. Besides, the binary view, comparing A to B, may not be sufficient to meet the full demand of the study of comparative literatures as several literatures are produced in different languages in all countries as an indivisible whole.
Larger part of ancient Indian literature was produced in Sanskrit. The influences or affinities between literatures which have been produced in modern Indian languages in order to project India as one nation could not be studied largely due to inaccessibility of the Sanskrit language to the majority in India but its similitude was found with Persian and Arabic, and Greek and Latin. This should have provided historical guidelines for a comparative practice of pluralism in order to understand the inter-literariness of the Indian literary culture. Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of India, pleaded for a comparative study of Gita and European works of great merit. But is comparison with the west the only criterion for the study of comparative Indian literature? Whether it is language or culture or political boundary that would limit the study to a sole criterion and hence a single perspective, which is against the very ideology of Comparative Literature. Though Indian literature is produced in English, it can't form part of English literature; its study therefore cannot be limited to the English or English-translated critical canon or to the principles of literalization offered by Eastern or European principles and theories alone. Besides, the nesting culture of the English writing in India is quite different from that of English writing in Africa, or Australia or the Americas, or even in other parts of the subcontinent.
Marathi and Telugu literature, though written in different languages, share a number of similarities in different respects. The relation of these to Sanskrit has influenced them as much as their relations to the local oratures and language-registers. The incident of colonial rule has influenced different groups of the Marathi and Telugu speaking peoples, in different ways. Common history, 'inherited texts' and similar processes of negotiating with these influences may be said to mark the larger body of 'Indian' literatures. Hence rather than a homogenous 'national' ideal, and rather than a limiting binary between 'nation' and 'vernacular', 'local' and 'global', the pedagogical aim of this seminar is to suggest the comparative method as an alternative means of studying cultural process and product.
This situation prompts us to look at our literatures from within and in the context in which they are produced and studied. It also prompts us to turn towards the sources and resources resulting from cultural contact far older than the colonial episode, reflect upon their influences as well as their refiguring in the light of colonial politics and their residual survival in 'post 'colonial modernity. This national conference intends to focus on the politics of the
discipline and theoretical formulations, interrogating its inclination towards western and European thinking and inviting reflection upon the inadequacy of their application to the Indian literary tradition. Its aim therefore is to situate the conversation about theory from 'below' in the context of the contemporary India and suggest pluralism as a conceptual tool to study Indian literary field.
Work Cited
Das, Sisir Kumar. Why Comparative Indian Literature. Comparative Literature: Theory and
Practice. ed. Amiya Dev and Sisir Kumar Das. (n.P).
- Comparative literature in India – Theory and Practice
- Comparative Literature as an Academic Discipline in India: The Present in the Light of History
- Perspectives on Indian Literatures from non-Indian Positions
- Comparative Indian literature- Textual, Authorial and Thematic Affinities/Parallels
- Post-colonial Experiences and Influences on Socio-cultural and Literary Movements
- The Multiple Registers of the Fictional Voice in Post-Independence Scenario
- Locating Indian literatures in the 'Global South'
- Implications of Parochialism in the Study of Comparative Indian Literature
- Translation and Comparative Studies
- Comparative Aesthetics
- Diachronic and Synchronic Comparative Studies
Deadline for sending abstracts: 20-02-2015
Notification of shortlisted abstracts: 23-02-2015
Full Papers: 15-03-2015
Registration Fee:
Faculty: Rs.1000/-
Student Scholars: Rs. 500/-
Note: Abstract of papers can be sent to the following emails:
For Contact: 09494116856
Dr. J.Bheemaiah