Thursday, December 27, 2012


I define ‘Indian Literature’ as a network of interliterary processes and communities, against which the individuality of the individual literatures on the sub-continent can be understood. The conventional definitions of the term have often considered it as a ‘category’ or as elusive essence of some abstract quality of‘Indianness’ which seem to reside in the individual literatures. The present working definition avoids the sterile and nationalistic ‘ unity vs. diversity’ debates by contrasting the shared and the overlapping literary elements with those which are distinctly ‘ intra-literary’. The shared or the interliterary processes do not signify a ‘unity’; in fact, they can be understood only in the context of differences and fluid boundaries of linguistic, cultural and artistic processes. The interliterary approach focuses on the literary phenomenon as ‘processes’ rather than as products and hence avoids ‘essentializing’ tendencies of the conventional way of thinking about Indian literature.

The need to study Indian literatures in wider comparative framework has often been reiterated by renowned scholars of comparative literature like Sisir Kumar Das, Amiya Dev , GN Devy, Chandra Mohan and AK Singh. However, an elaborate theoretical framework for analysis of interliterary relationships in the Indian context which accounts for parallels, affinities and divergences is missing. I propose that the theoretical notion of interliterariness as elaborated by the renowned Slovak comparativist Dionyz Durisin (1984) which highlights the interconnectedness and interactional relationships between multiple literary, cultural and social processes is of significant theoretical utility in comprehension of the most of the important literary phenomena on the Indian subcontinent. The notion can be understood as being dialectically related to the notion of ‘intra-literary’ processes. It provides a comparative framework to analyze literary texts, movements, literary cultures in India by focusing on the complex historical interplay of diverse literary, artistic and intellectual traditions which often collide, overlap, blend and give rise to hybrid aesthetics and heterogeneous cultural formations which cannot be understood in isolation or as monolith belonging simply to a single literary tradition or language.

Dioynz Durisin in Theory of Literary Comparatistics (1984), defines 'literary process' as the " inner laws of development of literature." He elaborates upon the goal of literary studies,and comparative literature is" to comprehend the literary phenomenon means not merely to describe its constituents, or to point out their mutual affinity and interdependence within the work of literature, but to reveal the multifarious affinities of the literary phenomenon and the individual procedures with the social, cultural, artistic and literary background in the widest sense of the word". (p. 11).  He distinguishes interliterary relationships into two interconnected and overlapping fields: those resemblances caused by genetic (contactual) relationships and literary resemblances (analogies) brought about by typological affinities. The genetic ( contactual) relationship in his theory does not imply the search for ‘origins’ and ‘influences’, but describes ‘ the coherence of the work of literature with preceding tradition…i.e. the relationships which one way or another participated in bringing it into being” (105).”  He notes, “Contactual study takes into consideration various forms of literary reception, while in typological study, we speak of literary analogies, affinities or inaffinities. While the forms of literary reception express a certain degree of direct contact, the typological analogies represent a considerably freer similarity, not determined by direct contact or genetically” ( 193).

He further distinguishes two forms of ‘contactual/genetic’ relationships into external contactual and internal contactual relationships. The external contactual relations would include things like “various reports and mention of the literature of other countries, actual contacts between writers and persons of letters, literary critical and literary historical studies of phenomena of foreign literatures and so forth’, while the ‘internal contactual relationships’ are ‘immediate’ and find their reflection and application in the actual structure of the literary phenomenon. One can discern a greater degree of involvement of foreign values in literary phenomenon like the works or literary movements.This distinction of contactual relationship is crucial for Durisin because ,” it is not only important as regards the degree to which foreign literary values participate in the formation of the developmental processes of the recipient literature, but also from that of the definition of the inner potentialities of the giving phenomenon for taking effect within the bounds of the native land” The internal contacts have received substantial attention from the scholars of comparative literature, however, according to Durisin there is always a danger of being mechanistic and  positivistic in the search for influences. Durisin lays stress on the historical , social  and cultural contexts and reciprocality of these literary resemblances, which in his view, eliminates the danger of being a ‘influence” hunter. (107). Durisin also points out the very crucial role of the recipient literature and resulting selective standpoint which determines and shapes the ‘internal contactual’ relationships. With regards to the relationship between the recipient milieu and the giving phenomena, he proceeds to make another significant distinction between ‘ direct’ or immediate contact or ‘intermediated’ contact. The direct contact reflect “ an immediate relationship to the literary values of other national literature and assume direct contact with the original work”, while in the mediated contact, the role of mediators and modes of mediation ( like informatory reports, news items and translation) is of great importance. If the intermediatory link belongs to a third national literature, the examination of its role becomes the part of the study of what Durisin calls the processes of world literature. ( 124-125) Durisin further differentiates the typological resemblances as being brought about by social, literary and psychological conditionalities. The socio-typological analogies for Durisin mean “general social conditionality of literary typological affinities, the roots of which lie in ideological factors relating to social ideas. Although this appears throughout the structure of the work of art, it is usually most intense in the intellectual constituents, reflecting the philosophy of the times and the artists’ Weltanschauung. We can include here those phenomena which reflect the individual forms of social consciousness and which find a specific application in literature.”(197).

Durisin (273-275) also provides an interesting theorization of the notion of ‘interliterary communities’, the communities which share interliterary processes and the communities which are related in an interlitrary way. He classifies various types of interliterary communities like those communities which are ‘ethnically related national wholes, living in a single state unit’ and those communities which are ethnically kindered nations which do not share co-existence in a common constitutional unit. The communities in a state, like various linguistic groups belonging to the nation India, form a relations of kinship by common political and social destiny. Durisin also notes how certain communities having no social or ethical bond become interliterary due to  history and form a common constitutinal unit. The example can be of the colonial the colonized relationship between the United Kingdom and India.

This theoretical schema can be usefully deployed in analysis of most of the significant literary phenomena on the subcontinent. For instance, the Bhakti movement which contributed immensely to the development of the modern Indian languages and literatures can be fruitfully viewed as an interliterary phenomenon. Many of the Bhakti texts bear an intertextual relationship with the pan-Indian sanskrtitic heritage consisting of important cultural texts like the vedic texts, the puranas, the epics and the classical Kavya literature. Important themes, motifs, metaphors and symbols from this heritage are integral to the structure of Bhakti poetry. This ‘internal contactual relationship’ of the Bhakti poetry in the modern Indian languages with the Sanskritic heritage is a typical case.  At the same time, what Durisin terms as ‘external contactual relationships’ proliferated owing to the fact that the Bhakti composers were pilgrims and wandered far and wide on the subcontinent. The Marathi Bhakti poet Namdeo left his mark not just on the Sikh scriptures in Panjab, but also seems to have contributed to Gujarati Vaishanava Bhakti as can be discerned in the use of Marathi lexical items and inflections in the works of Narsinh Mehta. Narsinh’s famous composition ‘Jala Kamal Chandi Ja Ne Bala’ uses the word ‘bala’ for affectionately addressing the child Krishna. The Marathi inflection ‘ cha’ in the signature line of Narsinh Mehta’s poetry as ‘ Narsaiya-cha swami’ is another illustration of the contactual relationship between Gujarati and Marathi. Another example can be of Kabir who is a major presence on the Bhakti poetry in most of the Indian languages. The social typological affinity lies in the politics of caste which is pervasive on the subcontinent and the Bhakti movement often rebelled against the caste, class and gender discrimination. The literary analogies can be found in similar literary devices and genres of the oral tradition of the Bhakti poetry. Durisin’s notion of interliterary communities can provide us a dynamic model to map the shifting linguistic and cultural communities funtioning in an interliterary modes in the pre-colonial times.

The colonial encounter was a distinctive type of interliterary ‘contact’ which is studied at length by the postcolonial theorists. This contact was both ‘external’ as well as ‘internal’ and the politically unequal relationship between the giving phenomena and the receiving phenomena was both ‘ direct’ and ‘mediated’. This contact resulted not just in new literary forms but also newer forms of social, cultural and intellectual life on the subcontinent. The ‘modern’ literary forms like the novel, the short story or the modern drama emerged out of this ‘colonial contact’. These newer literary forms were not derivative or slavishly imitative as some people would believe . As Durisin stresses the significance of the recipient literature and resulting selective standpoint which determines and shapes the ‘internal contactual’ relationships. Which means the native literary traditions and the ‘intraliterary’ processes play a crucial role in determining the reception of the foreign forms and shapes them in a distinctive manner? The analysis and description of the emergence of the modern novel in Indian languages by Meenakshi Mukherjee in her Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India (1985) can be seen as an interliterary account of the rise of a literary form in India. The account does not uses Durisin’s schema but does depict how the native narrative traditions combined with the foreign ones to produce works like Indulekha which were also at times superior to the novels they claimed to be inspired by. The problem with the ‘influence’ theory of ‘cause-effect’ explanation of this interliterary transaction is that it automatically privileges the ‘ influencer’, which in this case, is not surprisingly the cultural form of the colonizer over the ‘influenced’ which happens to be the colonized. Durisin’s model which stresses the historical and social contexts of this interliterary interaction which enables us a better understanding of the processes.

One can also analyze the phenomenon of ‘modernism’ in Indian literatures as an example of interliterary phenomena. Bholabhai Patel (1989: 251-261) has discussed how Baudelaire and Tagore were major influences on the emergence of the modern Gujarati poetry. He also notes how translations of Baudelaire, Eliot and Rilke and the poems on the Western poets and the Greek myths were common in both the languages. The western avant-garde modernist literature combined with the avant-garde literature in other Indian languages overlapped to produce the Indian version of the international modernist movement. Howerver, the literary resemblances were not merely due to ‘contactual’ relationships but also due to ‘analogical and typological parrallels in many social processes like urbanization, industrialization and the global catastrophic events like the world war II. The distinctive history of the subcontinent also created a ground for the reception of the international modernist movement. As Patel notes, “Independence uncovered us totally, without reservation. Independence and Partition, and with that urbanization and industrialization, shook the creative sensibility of the poet to the roots; and it became urgent for him to explore new poetic  techniques to express his new and sharpened mental states…..he was in tune with Baudelaire’s urban consciousness..(257)”. Almost similar stories can be narrated about the rise of the modernist literatures in other Indian languages like Marathi where the modernist poets like BS Mardhekar, Dilip Chitre and Arun Kolatkar wrote in the similar contexts.  The interliterary relationships with the western poetic and intellectual movements like Imagism, surrealism, Dadaism, existentialism, psychoanalysis, Marxism and phenomenology is commonplace in most of the Indian literatures after Independence.  Calling these relationships as ‘influences’ hardly helps us to analyze the specifics and the concrete manifestations of the hybrid and heterogeneous poetics and politics of the period. The analysis of the external contactual relationships like the visits of the Indian writers and intellectuals to the west ( like Mardhekar’s visit to England, or Dilip Chitre’s visit to Iowa Creative Writing Program) and the foreign writer’s visit to India( like Allen Ginsberg’s visit to India and his contact with many Indian writers during the sixties) or the correspondence between writers can help us to understand the phenomenon of the modernism in a more useful way. The analysis of distinctive typological inaffinites and divergences at social and historical level can help us to understand the differences in production, consumption and circulation of modernist discourses in various Indian languages. It can explain the reasons behind Bholabhai Patel’s observation that modernism in Gujarati was a late arrival compared to Bengali. It can also help us to comprehend the affinities and divergences between the little magazine movements in Indian languages like Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali.  The social typological affinities and convergences in modernism owes a lot to the similar interliterary and interlingual history of the languages. The overlapping histories of colonialism, nationalism, the rise of linguistic chauvinism leading to the linguistic formation of the states, the impact of partition, the so called ‘ Green Revolution’ , caste-based social and electoral politics, the impact of Indo-China war etc can help us understand the convergences and divergences of modernism in various Indian languages in a more comprehensive way. The view  of ‘ Indian Literature’ as consisting of a groups of of ‘interliterary communities’ living under the state unit and sharing similar political and social destiny can help us to map the concrete dynamics of the significant interliterary procesess ( like modernism, dalit and the feminist literatures).

This framework can also help us to analyze the later interliterary movements like the Dalit movements, nativisms, feminism by focuses in various kinds of contactual relationships between literatures and various kinds of typological analogies conditioned by social and cultural similarities and differences. The framework can help us to focus on the concrete contacts and analogies instead of the vague ‘cause effect’ theorization of ‘influences’. It can help us to overcome the implicit hierarchization in the discussion of ‘influence’ and concentrate on actual events, texts and interactions rather than impressionistic narrative of influence studies. Durisin’s theorization of the notion of interliterary communities is also of significant utility to study the interliterary relationships on the subcontinent and also to map historical shifts and mutations of the dynamic interliterary processes on the subcontinent. This sort of historical mapping of the warps and wefts of literary procesess will take us step closer in writing a comprehensive history of Indian literatures.


Abhai Maurya. Confluence: Historico-Comparative and Other Literary Studies. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd.,1988

Amiya Dev and Sisir Kumar Das (ed.) Comparative Literature: Theory and Practice, IIAS, Shimla and Allied Publications, 1989

Bholabhai Patel,’The Emergence of Modernity in Gujarati and Bengali Poetry” Dev and Das eds. 1989, 251-262

Dionyz Durisin, Theory of Literary Comparatistics, Veda, House of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislavia, 1984, Trans. Jessie Jocmanova

Marian Galik, “ Interliterariness as a Concept in Comparative Literature”, CLC Web: Comparative Literature and Culture, ISSN 1481-4374, 2000

____________“ East-West Interliterariness: A Theoretical and a Historical Overview” in Dev and Das eds. 1989, 116-128

Meenakshi Mukherjee in her Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India (1985)

Sisir Kumar Das, “Why Comparative Indian Literature”, in Dev and Das ed. 1989,94-105

( Published in Sahitya Vithika, Praveshank, Ardhavaarshik Antarrashtriya Shodh Patrika, Varsh: 1, Ank: 1, Decemeber 2012, Peer Reviewed Bilingual Bi-Annual Research Journal, Vallabh Vidya Nagar, Ed. Dr. Dilip Mehra, ISSN: 2319-6513)

Translating Creative and Critical Texts: Theorizing the Difference

As a practicing poet, critic and translator, I feel that though these are distinct activities, all of them have elements of creativity, critical thinking and intercultural aspects common to them. These elements of course vary in proportion. Creative writing involves critical labour, as Eliot pointed out. Critical writings involve creativity of reading and creativity of presentation. Both these activities have intercultural dimensions. Translation involves a high degree of creativity, critical sense and intercultural awareness, probably more than the other two activities. However, this does not mean that they are indistinct or homogenous activities. I think of them, in Wittgensteinian way, as being different ‘language games’ with only a faint ‘family resemblance’ to one another.

As a translator of Gujarati literature, I have translated short stories of noted writers like Nazir Mansuri and Mona Patrawalla and poetry of Narsinh Mehta apart from the contemporary poets like Mangal Rathod, Rajesh Pandya, Rajendra Patel and Jaidev Shukla. I have translated a good amount of contemporary Marathi poetry.

However, my experience of translating critical prose is fairly limited. Thanks to persuasion of Prof Rakesh Desai, I translated two articles on Narmad by Bhagwatikumar Sharma and Gulabdas Broker. I have also translated an essay by Ashok Vajpai into Marathi titled ‘Kavita Main Kya Hota hai’. In short I have some experience of translating both the kinds of texts: creative and critical texts.

Whether translation of critical prose differs substantially from creative writing ultimately depends upon whether you conceive of critical writing as being distinct from creative one. What I have to say here is in no way new or original. In fact, for many who are not conversant with the implications of literary theories, what I say may sound obvious. However, the postmodern theory has radically questioned what we have taken for granted or taken for obvious and hence, I have framed this discussion around the theoretically assumptions of poststructuralist theory. 

In the present paper, I argue that the abstract postmodernist and poststructuralist theories of literature which seek to erase the distinction between the literary and the non-literary or critical are of little use to me as a translator working with concrete texts. It is ironical how often the poststructuralist theoreticians who celebrate contradiction and difference are only too willing to erase the distinction between the artistic and the non-artistic. This impulse probably owes something to the postmodern condition which has played a crucial role in establishment of poststructuralist theory.

The formalist view of literary text as self-referential and autonomous, and the poststructuralist view texts as essentially intertextual seem theoretically irreconcilable. One is left in a theoretical aporia as the literary text seems to be paradoxically both: a self referential and autonomous order, AND an intextual entity.

However, I believe that this paradoxical and self-contradictory nature of the literary texts sets it apart from the non-literary ones.  This means though the literary texts are intertextual, they are primarily self-referential and self-sufficient. They are primarily about themselves. On the other hand critical texts are primarily about other texts. This is other way of saying what is traditionally believed of the difference between literature and criticism: literature is ‘autotelic’ and autonomous, criticism is parasitic, depending on literary texts for sustenance.

However, though the distinction is theoretically a contentious one, it is still a useful one empirically.  At least, in the context of the texts I have translated.

Consider, for instance a passage from Mona Patrawalla short story ‘The Clasps’:

It was not yet midnight; even then the village was dead silent. In the dark and cold Margshirsh night, the village stood as if, frozen, amid the dense sag, mahuda and bamboo forest. On the Valsad-Billimora highway, trucks laden with timber stolen from the outskirts of the village droned occasionally, honking and quaking the whole village. After they were gone and there was the immense silence again. Plains surrounded the village and then the Sahyadri valleys and mountains enfolded it.  These hills seemed to embrace the village full of small mud huts with their roofs of paddy straw. Bamboo groves surrounded the entire village as if they were ubiquitous bhungara cacti. It was a large village. Soon after nightfall, the village guards would light and hang up the lanterns on the poles. Then the whole village fell silent.  If one had not seen the lanterns hanging or bells ringing behind the chippa carts bound to the hatwada, he would be terrified to death at the sight of lone lantern approaching in the night. Besides, there was the crematory near the river Kavery behind the village. Many people lost their lives by drowning in the depths of this river. So the horror of ghosts, spirits or chudels would make the villagers peer into the darkness.  The needle of suspicion, however, would all the time point towards Kanta, the witch.

In spite of intertextual allusions to things like Margashirsh and stories of ghosts, the passage is designed to create a self sufficient world in which the narrative occurs. The primary purpose of such a passage is to evoke an aesthetic response to a sinister and dark world of Kanta.

On the other hand consider a critical text on Narmad by Bhagwatikumar Sharma:

The disposition for social reformation and for combating social evils of the age was so deeply ingrained and powerful in the poet Narmad that he could not remain content with literary compositions, essays and lectures. Hence it was inevitable that he would enter the field of journalism. In fact, it would have been surprising had Narmad not turned out to be a journalist.

The germs of journalistic temperament are extensively found in Narmad’s nature, in his activities and in his prose style. He was by nature a person of ‘Josso’- the irrepressible spirit. He was by innate nature given to opposing social evils and to promoting social reforms. He was often impulsive, impatient, decisive and completely unafraid. These are considered to be essential qualifications of a true journalist and so these traits molded the journalist in him.

Though there is a narrative side to this discourse, the intention is not to create a seemingly autonomous world as can been found in the earlier discourse.

Even when there is quaint sort of archaic rhetoric in Gulabdas Broker’s essay ‘Narmad: The Renaissance Man’, the rhetoric is not exactly ‘poetic’:

Narmad was undoubtedly a poet. He might not have polished much of his writing, but even then he was a poet. There wasn’t much possibility of doing so in those times. Though many of his poems are definitely uncouth, there can be no denying the fact that he was a poet.

He was a dauntless man- though he may have been conceited at times, and often he might have fought the battles which were not his, yet one cannot deny the fact that whenever time came to fight, he was not the one to run away.

Though he might not be much of a scholar in the true sense of the word, but he was unquestionably a complete connoisseur of knowledge. As he was working with scarce resources of his times, it was difficult to do sound scholarly work in the up-coming field of literary studies.  Yet whatever work that he did, like preparing the dictionary, writing about prosody, studying the  folklore, researching the old poetry, reflecting upon history and so on, it was not possible to do these things without deep interest, passion and understanding of these subjects.

One notices that the literary and the critical are two distinctive discourses, differing in the form, content and function from each other and can be marked by distinct rhetorical strategies. The translator has to be aware of the distinct nature of rhetoricity of two kinds of discourses. The literary texts are far more artistically complex and self-sufficient than the critical ones. In Jakobson’s terminology (1960), the critical discourses privilege the ‘referential function’ of language while the poetic use of language focuses on ‘the message for its own sake’.

Having said this let me add that there are many kinds of creative texts and there are many kinds of critical texts and translator has to be aware of these differences within the categories. There is no need to point out that translating a Ulysses or Finnegan’s’ Wake is more difficult than translating Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy, or that translating Harold Bloom or Jacques Derrida would be obviously more difficult than translating Gulabdas Broker or Bhagwatikumar Sharma. The strategies and devices of the translator also vary from text to text.

My personal belief is that the translators of literary texts have to be creative writers in the first place. Though this may sound dogmatic, very often, the translator who has no experience of creative writing has no idea why and how literary devices are employed and what is the significance of those devices. The non-literary translator may not need to know how symbolism, archetypal patterns, or metaphors function in poetry or how narrative techniques of flashback or  foreshadowing function in fictional work or what is the significance of such devices in the totality of the literary text. However, such a knowledge is prerequisite for the literary translators. Hence, one can expect a bilingual short story writer to translate short story more effectively than the translator who has no experience in writing short stories. One can expect a bilingual poet to be a better translator of poetry than a person who has no experience of writing poetry.

This means a literary translator ought to have literary competence, that is, not just the knowledge of literary devices, their function and significance in the totality of a text but also the knowledge of how to use them in an appropriate ways. After all, he is writing a new short story, novel or a poem. It implies that the literary translator ought to be much more than a critic.

The theoretical question whether the literary and the non-literary discourses and consequently the literary and the non-literary translation are essentially different can be conceived of in a Wittgensteinian way. The literary and the critical discourses may not be ‘essentially’ different from each other, but are two different ‘language games’. The similarity within the categories of the literary and the non-literary can be explained in the terms of ‘family resemblances’ (Wittgenstein, 1958:31) rather than essences.  

If literary and non-literary translations are two different language games, it means that there is an element of dexterity and skill involved in playing those games and some players are more skilled than others.


Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigation. Trans. GEM Anscombe, 2nd ed, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1958
Roman Jakobson Closing statements: Linguistics and Poetics, Style in language, T.A. Sebeok, New-York, 1960.
T.A. Sebeok.  Style in language, New-York, 1960.

(Published in 'Between the Self and the Other: Translation as Praxis' ed. Rakesh Desai, New Delhi: Saroop Book Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2013)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Imaginary Maps of Unknown Territories: Food Chain and Indian Poetry

(From “Imaginary Maps of Unknown Territories: Food Chain and Indian Poetry” On the Fringes: Marginalized Voices in English Literature, Eds. Capt. Dr. Arvind M. Nawale, Dr. Sheeba Rakesh, New Delhi: Authorspress, New Delhi, 2012, ISBN 978-81-7273-657-6). The paper was presented at " Marginality and Indian Poetry, Kavi Bharati-5, organized by Vagarth, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal. 20 March 2010

When I was asked to make a presentation on ' Marginality and Indian Poetry’, I was wonder-struck at the sheer quantity of my ignorance on the topic. Frankly, the three terms in the title ' marginality’, `Indian’ and ` poetry’ are marvelously abstract and vague and I have a feeling that all the three are, like most of the terms used in intellectual and non-intellectual discourses, metaphorical. The utility of these terms, in spite of their abstract and metaphorical nature, is similar to that of maps. Maps may not be territories, but it is better to venture with some, however inaccurate, than with none. But that does not mean we should not modify the maps as new knowledge and information comes up. Though maps create an illusion of fixity, they are remarkably unfixed. No sailor these days uses the maps used by Marco Polo or Columbus- except, of course, in literary studies.

Northrop Frye expresses his bafflement about the lack of word for a work of literary art similar to Aristotle’s use of the word ` poem’ (1957:71). Bhamaha (6th cent) uses the term ` Kavya’ to talk about all literary art including prose, verse, dance and drama of all kinds. Kavya is not poetry because somehow the term poetry is still fixated with the notion of verse. However, the distinction between the artistic use of language and non-artistic use of language is fuzzy rather than binary. Consequently, the map of poetry does not have clearly defined borders.

In the post-global world, one might have to consider the works of the visual artists and poets like Eduardo Kac, with his experiments with `holo-poetry’, ` space poetry’, `biopoetry’, `nano-poetry’ and `transgenic poetry’ seriously within the expanding domains of poetry.

I ask myself what territory does the term ` India’ or ` Indian’ map? Does it cover Sindhi, Bangla or Urdu literature written outside the present day political map of India? What about literature written in today’s Pakistan or Bangladesh before 1947? Does the term ` Indian literature’ cover the oral literatures and folklore of hundreds of `minor’ languages on the subcontinent? Is English an Indian language? What makes people like Salman Rushdie or Jhumpa Lahiri or VS Naipaul ` Indian’? Is Manto or Faiz Indian? Can you classify the Bhakti poetry as religious literature? Can you term the Vedic literature as `poetry’? It seems that the political maps, geographical maps, cultural maps, linguistic maps, civilizational maps and historical maps just don’t coincide and because they don’t coincide it is impossible to make a homogenous and unity category called ` Indian’. The problem with the ` unity in diversity theory’ of Indian Literature is that it is sufficiently abstract to include all literature in the world and not just Indian literature.

In spite of differences, all literatures in the world will have some sameness at some level of abstraction. Borges’s celebrated short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” suggests that all literature in the world can be seen as being composed by a single anonymous author.  In spite of all politics of difference, there is always a possibility of imagining this single anonymous author.

However, the dynamics of the histories, poetics and politics which govern most of the literatures on the Indian sub-continent are amazingly different. The languages I work with: Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi and English  have such startling differences in terms of aesthetics, sociology, histories and geographies that I have wondered whether they are comparable sets at all.

For instance, the significance of the term of ` Dalit’ literature in Marathi and Gujarati is entirely different. For some reasons, I am more comfortable with the term ` Ambedkarite’ literature, than the Dalit literature.  In Marathi, a writer who does not belong to the castes classified as Dalit does not get classified as a Dalit writer, whereas, in Gujarati, the writers from communities which are not Dalit are included in the Dalit literary canon. I deliberately speak of Dalit `Canon’ because there seem to be rules of inclusion and exclusion (euphemisms for discrimination) functioning within the Dalit category, and the politics of discrimination within the Dalit literary canon is also on the basis of caste identity and caste hierarchy. This means one can think of `more equals’ and `less equals’ among Dalits. The Vankar community in Gujarat and the Mahars in Maharashtra has occupied a dominant place in the cluster of communities labeled as the Dalits. Though all subalterns are equal, some seem to be more equal than others.

This brings me to the problematic notion of ` marginality’. The term ` margin’ is a spatial metaphor. And it seems to me that the metaphor of ` centre’ and ` margin’ is built on two dimensional model of space. It is high time we point out relativism within this model and notice that what is central and what is marginal depends entirely on the position of the observer. If the observer is placed closer to point A, then the point B will automatically be seen as further away from A and hence marginal. If one positions oneself closer, to say, Indian Writing in English, the Mahabharata composed in a Bhili language will be seen as marginal. What most of people forget that when they classify a certain literature as `marginal’ they are still speaking from the point of view of the central. They are speaking from the point A.  There is an implicit recognition of a particular tradition as central in classifying something as marginal. Here in lies the paradox of political correctness: when you are recognizing certain discourse as marginal you are reinforcing the centrality of the other discourse.

Consider the duality between ` the mainstream’ and ` the Dalit literature.’ When one considers the Dalit literature as marginal, one is agreeing implicitly to the idea that other forms of discourses are central, when the whole idea of centrality and marginality is actually a relative one. `Mainstream’ for whom? `Dalit’ for whom? Are the questions not pursued to their logical conclusion.  When you classify something as marginal, you are automatically classifying something as central. When one is culturally closer to the oral performer performing the Bhili Mahabharata, Shashi Tharoor’s Great Indian Novel becomes marginal and even irrelevant. It is only when one implicitly accepts Tharoor’s Great Indian Novel as dominant text; one can consider its other as marginal. Which means this perception is actually reinforcing the marginality and secondary status of the text.  Condescending nature of glorification of the Dalit literature in English studies today can seen as an example of backdoor Brahmanism because the Dalit literature is seen as `marginal’ from what English studies recognize as the central discourse, which means the English studies still decides what is central and what is peripheral .

I would also like to draw attention to relativism implicit in other congenital metaphors like ` subalternity’ or `minority’. While the languages like Marathi would be seen as subaltern vis-à-vis English or French, a tribal language in Maharashtra would be seen as subaltern vis-à-vis Marathi and a smaller tribal language would be seen as subaltern vis-à-vis larger tribal languages. Once we recognize that all points on the sphere are both central and marginal at the same time, we will notice that some points will always appear peripheral from any point, we will rethink the politics based on this metaphor. Most of the so called radical discourses which seek out to interrogate the dominant discourses circuitously reinforce the dominant status of the discourses by assuming that the particular discourses are central and particular discourses are marginal. We all know that though subalterns speak in various languages, the subaltern historians always speak in English and that too right from the top of the social, cultural and economic food chain. The food-chain, thus, is not only conserved, but also reinforced by the so-called radical discourses.


Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton University Press, Princeton: New Jersey, 1957, p.71
Kac, Eduardo. Ed. Media Poetry: An International Anthology. Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 2007
_____________, Space Poetry, on Kac’s website URL:
_____________,     Biopoetry.


( From 'Critical Perspectives' ed. Anil Kapoor, Jaipur: Mark Publishers, 2012, ISBN 978-81-89472-95-5, pp. 59-69)

Reduced to beggary by Mumbai
Ate a piece of jaggery at Kalyan
In a village that had no name
But hand a waterfall
Sold one blanket
And had a fill of water

Chewing peepul leaves
Came up to Nashik
Sold Tukaram there
And ate kheema-pav on top
While leaving Agra Road
Broke a chappal
( Arun Kolatkar, trans. Dilip Chitre)

The relationship between region and literature is an intricate one. The social, cultural and historical location of writers plays a crucial role in determining their sensibility, values, styles, themes and attitudes.  As the quest and assertion of identity of writers is frequently a significant characteristic of literary writing and as the social, cultural and historical domain is often intertwined with geographical setting, the quest for identity is often expressed in regional terms. This paper looks at how the post Independence Marathi poetry imagines, negotiates and represent Mumbai. Mumbai has played a decisive role in giving a new direction to Marathi, Gujarati and Indian English poetry. The urban experience of uprootedness, dehumanization, alienation and existential angst against industrialized, commercial and consumerist culture is a constant presence in the modernist poetry the world over.  The paper explores the intimate relationship between Mumbai and avant-garde movements in Marathi poetry like modernism and postmodernism by analysing works of major Modernist poets like Vilas Sarang,  Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre and Namdeo Dhasal and the works of significant contemporary poets like Manya Joshi, Varjesh Solanki, and Hemant Divate.

Marathi critics have a curious way of periodizing the twentieth century Marathi literary history. The conventional literary history marks the late nineteenth century the beginning of the ‘modern’ literature (which is in keeping with many other Indian literatures), and the phase after BS Mardhekar (c. 1940s) as ‘Modernist’. For some critics the phase of rise of little magazine movements in the sixties marks a new phase in Marathi literature, which is termed as ‘ Sathottari’ or ‘the post-Sixties’ borrowed from the friendly neighbourhood of Hindi literature. This phase is set off as a rejection or rebellion against the modernism of the 40s. This term is however is extremely problematic. The first problem is that the earliest little magazine movements began in the early fifties, with Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar and others starting the cyclostyled little magazine named ‘Shabda’ in 1954, so it is not really ‘post-Sixties’ at all. The second, and more serious problem, is that some of the important preoccupations of the so called ‘post-Sixties’ can be traced back to Mardhekar himself.  The preoccupations like amalgamation of international modernist movements with the Bhakti traditions, or with idea of alienation or the depiction of dark subjectivity and explicit sexuality, which is common in the writings of Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar, Bhalchandra Nemade( whose famous novel Kosla, shows clear impact of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, in spite of his xenophobic version of nativism), Namdeo Dhasal ( who co-founded Dalit Panthers inspired by the Black Panther’s movement in America), Vasant Abaji Dahke ( the dark surreal vision of Kafka is a major influence on his works) and others are prominently present in Mardhekar’s poetry. Hence, people who want to depict the post Sixties movement as a ‘nativist’ rejection of the earlier modernist phase (termed ‘Satyakatha’-Modernism disparagingly by the little magazine wallahs after the name of a reputed literary magazine which published the works of early modernists as well as the early works of Chitre, Dhasal and Kolatkar) have not read their literature carefully and critically.

A controversial position is taken by Sridhar Tilve (1999), who claims the post-Sixties little magazine is a third ‘modernity’ (or alternatively ‘postmodernism’) and the new generation of poets who deal with social and cultural problems of post liberalization phase are the poets of ‘Fourth modernity’ (‘post-post modernist’, by Tilve’s arithmetic, the first phase being the late nineteenth century , the second phase being the early modern phase of Mardhekar, Vinda Karandikar etc and the third phase is the ‘post modern phase’ of Chitre, Kolatkar etc.) The debate over the terminology is largely futile according to me, because in India, no period exhibits complete break with the preceding period and at the same time there is no period in which there is some discontinuity with the previous period. I find Lyotard’s discussion of the term ‘postmodern’ very useful in this context. Lyotard defines post-modern as precisely the avant-garde spirit to question received dogmas, parochial and received norms of literature. If questioning the received dogmas and established norms of literature is postmodernism in Lyotardian sense then postmodern even predates modernism. In the Indian context, this spirit can go back to the Bhakti period which was a period of intense questioning of norms and customs.

In his influential sociological analysis of the modernist movement, Raymond Williams (1990:164-170) focuses on the relationship between Modernism and metropolis between the second half of the nineteenth century and of the first half of the twentieth century. He notes that Modernism has seen in’ the new and specific location of the artists and intellectuals... within the changing cultural milieu of the metropolis’. He notes that the key cultural factor of the modernist shift is the character of metropolis. He points out that immigration to the great cities had direct influence on technical and formal innovations of this period. It also influenced the themes of alienation, strangeness and distance so common in the modernist writings. Raymond Williams is also critical of ideological underpinnings of the entire retrospective project of constructing modernism in a rather selective way.

Monroe K Spears’s book Dionysus and the City (1970) like William’s work examines the relationship between the Nietzschean   Dionysus and the context of urbanization in the development of modernism in the West. He says,

‘ Dionysus presides metaphorically over most of the recent trends in theater, from cruelty and absurdity to audience participation, nudity, and the tribal rock musical. On and off the stage, he is apparent in two contemporary figures: the black militant, violently releasing dark and repressed forces both in society and within psyche, and the rock musician, with his female devotees and his orgiastic cult of collective emotion.’ (1970: 35)

Spears in his discerning examination point out that the word City etymologically comes from the civitas, city-state, which is properly an aggregation of cives, citizens and the term civilization too comes from the same root. As a poetic trope, it stands for both the city within and the city without. Spears, drawing upon ideas from Walter Pater’s essay ‘ A Study of Dionysus’, comments that modernism began when Dionysus entered the city. In earlier times, Civitas Terrena or the Earthly City was seen as striving towards a Heavenly City, Civitas Dei, but for moderns, says Prof Spears, it is seen as falling or fallen and moving towards the Infernal City the City of Dis, the city of Dante and Baudelaire, and of Eliot. In short, when the modernist poets paint the city in dark and sinister colours, they are in many ways censuring and negating the process of urbanization as well as the entire foundation of civilization, they are criticizing the city within and without. If modern city stands for modernity, then modernism, as a cultural movement often stands in contradiction and negation to modernity.

This essential link, which Williams and Spears underscore, between metropolis, which is both capitalist and imperialist, and the modernist movement is decisive for analysis of Modernism as an international movement as both capitalism and imperialism have their impact on a transnational scale. Besides, what is termed Modernism has achieved, in Williams’ words, ‘comfortable integration into the new international capitalism’. He also remarks that Modernism is now canonized and its innovation has become ‘ the new but fixed forms of our present moment.’ The well-known art critic Harold Rosenberg, back in 1959 mentioned that            ‘ The famous "modern break with tradition" has lasted long enough to have produced its own tradition’ and it was possible to speak paradoxically of the ‘tradition of the new.’ It will be useful to locate Modernism in Indian languages within this ‘tradition of the new’. Though the contours and specifics of Modernism in India will obviously.

However, the relationship between the city and the village is crucial not just in analysis of modernism, but also for entire literary historiography and historical analysis of culture as demonstrated by Raymond Williams’ seminal book  The Country and the City (1973). Giving a lucid  and rigorous analysis of shifting values, perceptions and associations of the opposition between the country and the city as embodied in English literary history, Williams remarks that this contrast,’ is one of the major forms in which we become conscious  of a central part of our experience and of the crises of our society’. (1973:289). He argues that capitalism, as a mode of production, is the basic process of most of what we know as the history of country and city. He cites Marx and Engels from the Communist Manifesto where they say, ‘ the bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns...has created enormous cities...has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones.’ (1973:303). Williams, in spite of being a Marxist, is critical of the idea implicit within Marxism and socialism, the avowed enemies of capitalism, in their perception that the city is more ‘advanced and progressive’ than the country because the industrial capitalism is a more progressive than the feudal capitalism.

However, what is important to us in our analysis of the relationship between modernism and the city in the Indian context is Raymond Williams’s awareness of relevance of this thesis to cultures beyond the British and the western culture. He is aware of the fact that the historical process he is studying is ‘now effectively international, means that we have more than material for interesting comparisons. ‘(1973:292)

While it would be illuminating to examine the imagery and sensibility associated with the urban experience in the modernist Indian poetry, I would be delimiting myself to Marathi poetry and the urban experience of Mumbai which happens to be India's largest city, and the financial capital of the country, and also one of the most important cultural centres of this country. It is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. The city proper has approximately 14 million people and, along with the neighbouring suburbs of Navi Mumbai and Thane, Mumbai forms the world's 4th largest urban agglomeration with around 19 million people. Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment centre of India, generating 5% of India's GDP and accounting for 25% of industrial output, 40% of maritime trade, and 70% of capital transactions to India's economy. Important financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India and the corporate headquarters of many Indian companies and numerous multinational corporations are based in this city. India's Hindi film and television industry, or Bollywood is based in Mumbai. Mumbai's business opportunities, as well as its potential to offer a better standard of living, attract migrants from all over India and, in turn, make the city an assortment of many communities and cultures.

Manya Joshi, a young Mumbai based poet writes in a language that hardly looks like Marathi. The changed metropolitan location deeply informs his poetry. I quote from his poem ‘Marathi Pauperized Me’. The first line obviously is a take on the Kolatkar poem quoted in the beginning.

Marathi pauperized me
So I fingered English shit
My ass aches
From paying for
All escape routes

 A white Mercedes
Smashes me to smithereens
I know by heart
The success stories chart
In the personality development class-
-My worshiped location

Ad copies of MNCs
Hold me under their sway
I prognosticate
Oriental revelation
Of virtual reality
In so-called alien intelligence
The world is not mean
But we are jerks

Manya Joshi’s poems often touch upon the segregation of human being from a human being in the age of ‘communication’ revolution. His poem ‘ An Announcement for Mr and Mrs Limaye’ can be read as an expression of alienation in the ‘global village’:

An Announcement for Mr. & Mrs. Limaye


Mrs. Limaye aap jahan
Kahibhi ho forein
Mulund station par chale aaiye
Wahan aapke pati
Aapka intezaar kar rahe hai


Maalik who is sabka ek
Bang everyone
O Shirdi king Sai Baba bang bang

People lose their way
People lose each other
People make civil statements
On a superbuiltup world


In a public local train
There is an unimagined itchiness
On your private emotions
You mentally advertise it to yourself


Mr. & Mrs. Limaye
Hiding behind popular philosophies
Wait for
Each other
Facing each other.

The poem which mixes up registers and languages expresses how people lose each other and are alienated from one another. In spite of being a very small world, a married couple travelling in Mumbai suburban train fails to recognize each other on the crowded railway platform. Manya Joshi’s perception of the predicament of alienation in the ‘super built up’ world is not celebratory. It is a rather agonizing situation from which even Sai Baba cannot save us.

Manya, one of the most experimental poets today, employs the post modernist device of pastiche and collage in his poems by drolly using incoherent and queer fragments from various languages like English and Urdu mixed with Mumbai slang. He freely sprinkles the indigested terms from the Western literary theory flavoured with sarcasm and irreverence. The language of his poems is extremely hybrid and heterogeneous.

Vrajesh Solanki uses a similar post modernist device of pastiche and collage in one of this poems entitled ‘ Poems of Advertisements’:

About films: wanted boys and girls for a new TV serial,
Smart, young, having a good command over language, contact us
With your photo for the screen test. Earn! Earn! Earn! Ten thousand a month.
 A golden opportunity for the unemployed. Education no bar. A company
 With American base wants sales boys and sales girls for door-to-door marketing.
Meet with your bio-data. Vasai: the second Konkan. Green heaven restaurant
Just five minutes from the station. Recognized by Sidco. Twenty-four water supply.
With ultra modern amenities. Loan facility available. Booking open. Are you depressed?
Take two pills of super deluxe before sleep and experience the power and strength
Which you once had. Internet marriage: 45/55 Maratha caste
Fill up online forms. Regarding the change of names: I, vithya dagdo gaitonde
 From today onwards will be called vikas dagdo gaitonde as per
Maharastra gazette no. xxxx dated xx/xx/xx. Sanju, please come back
From wherever you are, your mummy and papa are waiting for you. Entire Patil family.
Solve the crossword no.514 please don’t send it to our office address or try to contact
Our office regarding the same.

Vrajesh‘s poetry expresses his anger and suffocation of living in a dehumanizing and fake cultural and social environment. Mumbai, the gigantic metropolis comes out as a bewildering mega machine through the eyes of lesser-privileged sections of the population that Vrajesh represents to an extent. Interestingly, Vrajesh’s first language is Gujarati and he writes excellent Marathi.

Poems of Hemant Divate are concerned directly with the urban social and cultural landscape transformed by the forces of globalization and privatization. In his poem ‘ Even Here He Gets Fucked’ he talks about how these large scale processes have eroded and damaged personal relationships:

I now live in an e-world
breathing e-air
whose naturalness I no longer trust.
When I take air in
and throw it out,
I hardly realize
when it becomes breath,
Likewise, when I trickle from space
into cyber space
along with the sound of the cursor
and try to reach the given address
I don't find you there.

One more relationship is dragged away
into the junk mail.

In the poem titled ‘ Shopping at Mega-Mall’, the speaker realizes that he has turned into a commodity a consumer item and is being displayed in the mega mall.

I am Whisper Sanitary Napkin
Lying on the first rack
And I am dreaming of living very close to a young girl
Absorbing her juices.

Or that I am a Huggies Nappy Pad on the second rack
And I am accumulating the excreta as I snuggle
some infant
Who I look after tenderly
For five to six hours.

Or I am a high-priced toilet soap
Camay, Yardley or Lux International

The consumer becomes the consumed; the subject becomes the object, not just any object but an object to be sold in a flashy wrapper as the entire world turns into a one huge Mega-mall. This indeed is a dehumanizing predicament.

Or I am the television
And the entire family is sitting in front of me
Eating and surfing my channels
Or that they have switched me off
And have left me alone in this room
Or that I am a foot wipe
Costing twelve bucks
Given free with a purchase
Of upholstery
Good looking
Yet my master coming out of the bathroom
Is wiping his wet feet on me

Or that I am a broom
With which the folks
Are causally cleaning their floor
Or dusting away cobwebs.

My mistress drops me
While using me
And dreams of a vacuum cleaner.
She spits on me
Even if I touch her husband's body
By mistake.

This sense of commodification of self is also an awareness of being used, abused and used as a foot wipe. The last stanza quoted above is almost an example of Dalit poetry, where the owner of the broom spits on it dreaming of vacuum cleaner. The consciousness of the dehumanizing, asphyxiating and sinister aspects of globalization pervades poetry of many contemporary poets like Hemant Divate.


Arun Kolatkar. The Boatride. Mumbai, Clearing House, 2010

___________.  Kala Ghoda Poems. Mumbai, Clearing House, 2009

David Lodge and Nigel Wood. Eds. Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, New Delhi: Pearson Education (Singapore) Pvt Ltd., 2005

Dennis Walder, ed. Literature and the Modern World: Critical Essays and Documents,  New York: Oxford University Press, 1990

Dilip Chitre. As Is, Where Is. Selected Poems. Mumbai: Poetrywala Publications, 2007

__________ Shesha. Selected Marathi Poems. Mumbai: Poetrywala Publications, 2008

___________ ed. An Anthology of Marathi Poetry (1945-65). Mumbai: Nirmala Sadananda Publications, 1967

EV Ramakrishnan. Making It New: Modernism in Malayalam, Marathi and Hindi Poetry’, Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1995

Fredric Jameson. ‘ Postmodernism and Consumer Society’ in Leitch ed. 2001, pp1960-1974

______________. ,’ The Politics of Theory: Ideological Positions in the Postmodernism Debate’ in  Lodge and Wood ed. 2005, pp.367-377

Harold Rosenberg. Tradition of the New, New York: Horizon Press, 1959, p11-12

Homi Bhabha. Location of Culture. Routledge, 1994

Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, translated by G Bennington, B. Massumi, Manchester University Press, 1984

Monroe K Spears. Dionysus and the City: Modernism in Twentieth Century Poetry, New York: Oxford University Press, 1970

Peter Burger. The Theory of the Avant-Garde. Trans. Michael Shaw. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984, pp 47-53

Raymond Williams, ‘Modernism and the Metropolis’ and ‘When Was Modernism’ in Dennis    Walder ed. 1990, pp 164-170

Raymond Williams. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Richard Appignanesi, Chris Garratt ,  Introducing Postmodernism, Icon Books, 1999

Sachin Ketkar ed.  And trans. Live Update: An Anthology of Recent Marathi Poetry, Poetrywala, Mumbai, 2004

Sridhar Tilve, Teekaharan, Shabdavel Prakashan, Kolhapur, 1999

UR Ananth Murthy , Ramchandra Sharma, DR Nagraj Eds. Vibhava: Modernism in Indian Writing Bangalore: Panther Publications, 1992

Vilas Sarang. Still Life. Poetrywala, Mumbai, 2007

___________________ed. Indian English Poetry Since 1950: an Anthology, Hyderabad: Disha Poetry, 1990

Vincent Leitch. et al. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York and London: WW Norton and Company,2001

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Sachin Kekar
"Rebuilding Babel: Literary Studies in a Post-Global world", Melus-Melow Journal Vol. 1 (August 2011): 17-28.

1)      The Tower of Babel  Reloaded

According to the story in Genesis (11: 1-9), an enormous tower was built at the city of Babylon. The people decided their city thought they should have a tower so high that it would reach the heavens. However, the Tower of Babel was not built for the worship and praise of God.  Hence the Lord saw this as an act of hubris, and descended to destroy the tower. He confused people’s languages and scattered them throughout the earth so that they don’t repeat their act of vanity.

The myth has been interpreted in various ways. The religious interpretation sees it as act of the Almighty to punish human vanity and ego. The philosophers like George Steiner, Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida read this narrative as the myth about the pure original language of humanity being scattered and dispersed so as to necessitate translation. It is seen as a myth about origin of multiple languages. However, the most intriguing interpretation of the story of Babel is found in the Kabalistic traditions. According to Menachem Tsioni, an Italian Torah commentator of 15th century, the Tower was a functional flying craft, empowered by some powerful magic or technology.  The device was originally intended for holy purposes, but was later misused in order to gain control over the whole world.

Let us roll these three interpretations into one and we have the Tower of Babel becoming a metaphor, a symbol, a myth and an allegory of Globalization: of hubris, of technology and of plurality.

2)      Some Preliminary Confessions of a Post-Global writer

The phrase ‘post-global’ in the title of this essay implies that one very significant phase of globalization which began after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late eighties has reached its conclusion with severe economic global recession after two decades of tremendous changes in the life of ordinary people as well as in the realms of larger geopolitical arena. This is the period in which I grew up as a writer and student of literature, though I should concede that I did my college assignments and doctoral research without Wikipedia and Google.  I should also concede that as a writer and a research scholar, I am doing things which were unthinkable in the early nineties. I publish my own poems and articles on the free public spaces like the blog, or online communities or freely available webpage.  In what can be described as an online chat poetic Jam session, I exchange poetic compositions extempore with a poet based in Kolkata whom I have never seen in my life. I meet poets and writers from all ages and locations on the social networking sites like Orkut or Facebook. The idea that a published poet is the one whose works are printed is obsolete.

This essay is product of my personal experiences as a writer, translator, research student and university teacher. The argument I make is that the intellectual paradigms of literary studies I grew up with are losing their relevance in the world outside the seminar halls and the university walls, which most of the ‘critics’ and the ‘theorists’ inhabit. The theoretical categories fabricated yesterday exist mostly in the academic discourses, which are notorious for their ostrich-like outlook completely out of sync with the today’s world.

When I was pursuing my postgraduate studies in the mid-nineties, on the pavements of Baroda, I ran into pirated editions of oddly titled book called The Third Wave and Powershift written by Alvin Toffler. Piracy is a very much a post-global phenomenon and its consequences are far reaching. The Third Wave talks of three phases or waves of evolution of human civilization. The first wave, Toffler (1980) asserts, began with the development of agrarianism in human societies some ten thousand years ago. The second wave began in the eighteenth century with the Industrial Revolution. The third wave, in Toffler's schema, began in the post-World War II era, when technology began to outstrip industry as the dominant cultural and economic force in society. The second wave, ‘or smokestack civilization’,  according to Toffler ‘, is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureaucracy." The Third Wave, Toffler wrote, ‘ brings with it a genuinely new way of life based on diversified, renewable energy sources; on methods of production that make most factory assembly lines obsolete; on new, non-nuclear families; on a novel institution that might be called the "electronic cottage"; and on radically changed schools and corporations of the future. The emergent civilization writes a new code of behavior for us and carries us beyond standardization, synchronization, and centralization, beyond the concentration of energy, money, and power.’ Probably, what we need today in India is ‘ The Third Wave’ literary studies. And I believe that the canonical ‘ cultural studies’ paradigm is still grounded on the ‘smokestack’-cold war paradigms.

If newer paradigms for literary studies are to emerge, then we should focus on what Raymond Williams called ‘ emergent’ aspects of culture (1977), rather than focus merely on what he calls ‘ residual’ or ‘ archaic’. However, we must also look at the theories built upon the obsessive concern with ‘ residual’ and ‘archaic’ which render these theoretical paradigms themselves as ‘residual’ and even ‘ archaic’.

3)      The Residual and the Archaic Literary Approaches

The paradigms for literary studies in India today are basically of two types: 1) fashionable ones which are ‘residual’ in William’s sense and 2) unfashionable ones or the ‘archaic’. The unfashionable or the archaic one is largely a Romantic theory of literature – by Romantic, I mean the one that became fashionable in the late eighteenth century in Europe and America. It sees ‘literature’ as an expression of author’s ‘genius’ and literature as a receptacle of humanistic and spiritual values of refined and elevated culture. This paradigm is still alive and kicking and often without having a slightest awareness of being kicked in all sorts of places. You just have to glance at the research papers and articles published all over the country. It often combines with the classical Sanskrit theories.  I suspect this might be so because historical reasons. John Drew’s fascinating book ‘ India and the Romantic Imagination’ (1998) explores the unacknowledged ‘globalization’ of ideas from Sanskritic texts which permeated the Romantic ideologies.  The distinction between the Western and the Eastern was never simple and clear-cut, as the colonial and the post-colonial scholars assume. I notice that one aspect of contemporary globalization is growing irrelevance of such a distinction. The problem with this approach is that it is not really a critical approach. Its terminology is quite vague and its language is extremely clichéd and exhausted. This framework can no longer offer new insights into contemporary literature.  Though this paradigm resembles the formalist approaches of the early twentieth century, and often displays a superficial familiarity with the early twentieth century formalist approaches like New Criticism and the Russian Formalism, it has lacks the rigour and training of genuinely close reading of the text. We can call this approach ‘pseudo-formalism’ or ‘pseudo-Romanticism’.

The second paradigm, to which I was exposed only as a post-graduate student in a metropolitan university in the early nineties, is almost a mirror opposite of the ‘traditional-unfashionable’ paradigm. It is the paradigm which has almost ‘hegemonic’ ‘elitist’ -status in the English literary academia today.  Paradoxically, the most interesting thing about this paradigm is its verbose railing against hegemony and elitism clothed in the most incomprehensible jargon. It is as brahminical as its alter-ego the ‘ traditional-unfashionable’ paradigm. It often calls itself ‘ Cultural Studies’, and however hard it tries to distance itself from elitist conception of culture, it forgets that this obsession with culture itself is elitist.  This approach owns its intellectual heritage to what is known as ‘ Critical Theory’ as manufactured in the Frankfurt School.  However, this approach is very prestigious one I believe because it has mastered the art of camouflaging its own Brahmanism. The key terms in this ‘high browed’ theories are the terms it seeks to combat, and it does so without much awareness that its own discourses have the same cultural status as the terms it seeks to combat: ‘hegemony’, ‘ideology’, and ‘power’. Though these terms are so very equivocal and polyvalent, and thanks to certain neo-Marxist (or neo-Althusserian or neo-Gramscian) underpinnings of ‘cultural studies’, there is very little doubt about their meaning in the minds of its promoters. The basic assumption, canonical literature is a tool for political domination manufactured by elites and it is a sacred duty of an academic critic to read it in a way so as to weaken its power. Literary criticism becomes the weapon against the hegemonic and ideological literary discourse. The cultural studies crusader, however, prefers not to talk about the elitist, hegemonic and ideologically prejudiced nature of their own critical discourse. In such a situation, it becomes necessary to look at the foundations of such literary studies once again.

Consider a term like ‘ hegemony’, which means to rule over or to dominate. In Gramscian scheme of the things, it implies ‘spontaneous consent’ of the exploited to the ideas of the exploiters. It comes close to one of the most popular word in the Cold War era- ‘brainwashing’. In the Cultural studies school, which came into prominence in the era of Cold War, ‘indirect brainwashing’ is what the cold war was basically about in the domain of ideas. The important problem with the term is the fundamental assumption that the exploited and the victimized are basically naïve and gullible. To imply that the ‘masses’ are gullible and can be easily befooled and intellectuals cannot be is a sheer sign of arrogance.

Even more important problematic in my view is the distinction between ‘the exploiters’ and ‘ exploited’ and ‘ victimizer’ vs. ‘victimized’. The exploiter-exploited dichotomy assumes universal and absolute positions. It fails to recognize that an exploiter in one situation may be the exploited in another. However, in order to continue the discourse on hegemony, the exploiter- exploited dichotomy has to be conceived of in absolutist terms.  In any society, at any period of time, there has always been a hierarchy or wide prevalence of certain ideas. The romanticism implicit in the wish that there would be a society where there is no hierarchy of ideas is nothing but sentimentalism camouflaged as a radical outlook. Probably, Foucault was one of the sharpest opponents of this camouflaged utopianism. This Nietzscheian Foucault is certainly not the Foucault which the Critical theory oriented cultural studies wallahs swear by.

Another interesting case is the use of the term ‘ ideology’ and it is usually used in certain ‘ ideological’ ways. A noted Marxist critic Terry Eagleton (1991) notes almost sixteen different meanings of the term ideology and Raymond Williams (1985) notes how the significance of the term shifted through history. However, in the midst of jargonese verbiage what is sacrificed is awareness of historicity and polyvalences. Hence, the axiomatic assumption that ‘ literature’ is ideological becomes a vague observation of little theoretical use.

However, this reified and dogmatic jargon of the critical theory continues to live in the period of industrialization and cold war where the terms like capitalism and socialism, the lefts and the right made some sense. Today when I hold some equity shares of a company in my demat account, I wonder what kind of capitalism is this, where there is no such thing as ‘means of production’ which I own. What I own is merely a piece of information recorded digitally, no not even a piece of paper. What seems to emerge to be emerging is knowledge capitalism, which seems to be an inverted picture of the classical Marxist paradigm of ‘superstructure-on-base’ model. It seems that the economical relationships seem to be based on the knowledge.

The politics and theorization of identity in the post-global world cannot be framed around the paradigms of the cold war era. The third wave Feminist theory is just one instance of how a traditional rhetoric of resistance indulges in a self contradictory registers. On the one hand it denies any admissibility of essentialist notion of gender and on the other hand it talks about retaining the category of woman ‘strategically’. It is ‘If woman does not exist, so we need to invent her’ kind of discourse.

The centrality of colonial experience which the post-colonial studies assumed to be its fundamental premise no longer seems relevant. The politics of identity in the post-colonial situation was usually oppositional to the colonial and orientalist discourses. Nationalism, nativism and subaltern perspectives usually questioned the colonial discourses of identity. If the construction of identity is a dialectical process as Hegel proposed in his ‘ master-servant’ metaphor, then there the distinction between masters and servants has become extremely fragile and volatile today and that  ‘the other’ is not homogenous and stable  and hence identities today are extremely volatile and  heterogeneous. If I consume Chinese food for snacks and continental food for lunch and Mexican dish for dinner, the politics of identity in a Hegelian oppositional framework becomes absurd. The boundaries that which once separated the ‘private’ from the ‘public’ seems to have become irrelevant with the arrival of cable television mania, mobile phones and the internet

If  Benedict Anderson’s theorization that nation is an ‘imagined community’ made possible because of print-capitalism (1991) is accepted, then we should be able to postulate an emergent concept of nation as a ‘virtual community’ made possible by digital revolution in general , the internet and social networking in particular.  This virtual nation is precisely what it is: virtual, simulated and digital. It exists in cyberspace rather than in imagination of people. It cuts across cultural, national and linguistic boundaries.

If literary criticism is defined simply as a language we use to discuss literature, then what we need today is the third language which avoids the clichéd and predictable languages which dominate the literary studies academia in India today and deals with the ‘emergent’ aspects of the cultures. The emergent aspects of our culture are consequences of the process of globalization which went berserk in the nineties and mid twenties. Hence it is necessary to think about what globalization really is or was in order to speculate on the possibilities of literary theoretical approaches which have contemporary relevance.

4)      Globalization and Beyond

Globalization is a buzzword, a journalistic cliché, a term which means many things for many people. Like most of the significant concepts in social sciences, it is fiercely contested.  Held and McGrew explain that globalization ‘can be thought of as the widening, intensifying, speeding up and growing impact of world-wide interconnectedness’. Nayan Chandra (2002) points out that it is a millennia old process beginning with out ancestors moving out of Africa and moving all over the globe. He says that even though this ‘g-word’ has evoked extreme emotional responses, it has some utility if it is understood as a ‘leitmotif’ of human history. He notes that it is a trend that has intensified and accelerated in recent decades and come into full view with all its benefits and destructive power. Just as climate has shaped the environment over the millennia, the interaction among cultures and societies over tens of thousands of years has resulted in the increasing integration of what is becoming the global human community.

The critics of globalization point out the perils and destructive aspects of this process: homogenization or Americanization of cultures across the globe, tyrannical post-cold war politics the US bent upon making the multipolar world into unipolar one, tyranny of multinational corporations, and so on. They see it threatening the cultural, economic, and political freedom, identity, and diversity. Whether good or bad, one cannot overlook the fact that this process exists, and is transforming the society at an amazing velocity. An unprecedented interconnectedness and interdependency encompasses the entire globe, and this is largely due to mediation of information technology and propelled by the engines of global corporate players. The neo capitalist mantras of free market, liberalization, and privatization and so on form the part of the rhetoric of globalization. For some it stands for ‘liberal free market economy’ or ‘ turbo capitalism’ which exploded globally after the end of the Cold War. For others it means rampant Americanization of cultures. Some see it as the Digital and Information Technology revolution and emergence of a ‘ Global Village’, an integrated planet. Many see it as multinational corporate dictatorship which is ruining this planet.

To avoid the American-centric view of globalization which seems to imply that globalization is a unidirectional movement, the term ‘glocalization’ was made popular by the sociologist Roland Robertson(1997). He used this word as a rendering of a Japanese word ‘dochakuka’. It is actually a Japanese marketing strategy to sell a standard product with the ‘flavour’ of a particular market. Robertson uses this word with another purpose- to demonstrate that the US does not solely control the process of creating large scale interconnected, interdependent world, a global village. Robertson goes on to define ‘glocalization’ as ‘ the simultaneity --- the co-presence --- of both universalizing and particularizing tendencies’. This term is useful particularly because it does not consider ‘local’ as a mere victim or recipient of the process of globalization. It also emphasizes that the binarism between ‘global’ and ‘local’ is not mutually exclusive and unproblematic and both the terms are interdependent.

The examples of McDonalds’s Restaurants, a global player appealing to local palates and Hollywood movies dubbed into Tamil and Hindi obviously comes to our mind as the examples of glocalization. Easy availability of Chinese bhel or a Jain burger in a nearby ‘gobblers’ street’ is not a radically new cultural phenomenon. Cultures have never existed in vacuum and instances of large-scale import-export of cultural items can be cited easily. The notion of a ‘pure original’ indigenous culture is a recent myth and this notion itself has circulated in an economy of cultures which is transnational. Various versions of nativism and nationalism have become influential only due to the context of history of colonialization. One must realize that the things, which seem natural to a culture (like trousers and shirts), have only been naturalized beyond recognition by the forces of history. Not many among us are aware that the potato came from Peru, coffee from Brazil and chilli pepper from Mexico. That our bhashas or the regional Indian languages contain words from Persian, Arabic, adjacent languages, tribal languages and of course English, is overlooked by the politicians of various forms of nativisms and nationalisms.

Poetics, a complex cultural artefact, has been increasingly ‘glocalized’ in twentieth century. Poetics is a component of ideology that defines both poetry and its social and cultural function in a given society. The globally influential European literary movements like Romanticism and Modernism were themselves influenced by literatures of the East. The Romantic Movement, which travelled from European cultural centres to America and rest of the world, bore influence of the Orientalist translations of the eastern literary and philosophical texts. That the high modernist poets like Pound, Eliot, and Yeats was keenly interested in the Eastern literatures is well known. The major literary languages across the globe translated, glocalized, and assimilated the poetics of European movements into their own literary systems. The study of glocalization, translation, assimilation, and globalization of poetics would fall under comparative literary studies. One of the major functions for comparative literature in the era of globalization would be to study the interaction between the global and local literary systems in their political, historical, and social context.

In the colonial period, the British literary forms like the novel, journalistic prose, short story and so on moulded similar genres and forms in many Indian languages. The Romantic poetry and the Victorian poetry were extremely popular and influential in Marathi in the first three to four decades of the twentieth century. Chiefly poetics, apart from some literary texts, was translated, glocalized in the regional languages. This of course is not to overlook the context of power and asymmetrical relation between cultures in this process of glocalization.

In spite of sharp differences and controversies, William Scheuerman (2008) in his entry on Globalization in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, points out the aspects of globalization on which there is some consensus.  Most contemporary social theorists endorse the view that globalization refers to fundamental changes in the spatial and temporal contours of social existence, according to which the significance of space or territory undergoes shifts in the face of a no less dramatic acceleration in the temporal structure of crucial forms of human activity. Geographical distance is typically measured in time. As the time necessary to connect distinct geographical locations is reduced, distance or space undergoes compression or “annihilation.” The human experience of space is intimately connected to the temporal structure of those activities by means of which we experience space. Changes in the temporality of human activity inevitably generate altered experiences of space or territory.

Scheuerman notes that in spite of great differences among experts on the opinion about the causes of globalization, there is an agreement on five essential characteristics of globalization. The five characteristics of globalization according to Scheuerman are:
1)      Globalization is linked to deterritorialization
2)      Globalization is linked to the growth of social interconnectedness across existing geographical and political boundaries.
3)      Globalization is linked to explosion of  the speed or velocity of social activity
4)      Globalization is a relatively long term process
5)      Globalization should be understood as a multi-pronged process, since deterritorialization, social interconnectedness, and acceleration manifest themselves in many different (economic, political, and cultural) arenas of social activity.

The first feature deals with the disappearance of geographical distances owing to explosion in digital technology, the internet and the like, giving rise to newer forms of ‘non-territorial’ social activity. The second feature is about the world emerging as a complex ‘network’ where diverse parts are interdependent and linked to each other in a dynamic way. The third feature is connected to the temporal dimension of our social life whose speed has increased in a mind-boggling way. The fourth characteristic historicizes globalization and sees it as a process that has a long origin. The fifth and the most important feature is the awareness of globalization as a multi-dimensional process, which affects human life in multiple ways. Globalization is not just about economy or politics or culture, it is about all these things and more. It is about emergence of dazzling new possibilities in almost every sphere of our lives, which were unthought-of before.

Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their book Revolutionary Wealth (2006) point out how the ‘Third Wave’ is transforming the ‘deep fundamentals’ of all our relationships, including our relationships with wealth and power. These ‘deep fundamentals’ are i) time, ii) space and ii) knowledge. Toffler states, never before have we been able to instantly access virtually unlimited amounts of any kind of information for virtually zero cost. Unlike the foundations of past wealth revolutions, the Third Wave's foundation defies traditional economics in that knowledge is not scarce; knowledge is infinite and exponentiates itself. An economy based on knowledge also defies classical economics due to the non-rival property of knowledge. The idea that ‘knowledge’ belongs to ‘superstructure’ in the classical Marxist conception, according to Tofflers is inaccurate.  It seems that knowledge has started becoming the base on which economics and other things stand.

Consequences of globalization can vary from being extremely detrimental and catastrophic to enriching and empowering. The utopian or dystopian vision of globalization will always be one-sided. The black and white view of the multi-pronged and multi-dimensional process will always be partial and limited. The opponents of globalization are actually opposing only one aspect of globalization, and those who are praising it are also taking a limited view of the thing. The euphoric cheerleaders of globalization refuse to talk about the cataclysmic effect of unchecked greed on environment or immense rise in the economic and social inequalities in the world, while the pessimists refuse to see the immense possibilities and opportunities opened up by digital revolution and shedding of our antiquated dogmas and prejudices. The anti-globalization campaigners overlook the fact that their movement is also a global movement and hence very much part of globalization.

If globalization has altered the supposedly immutable categories,  the ‘deep fundamentals’ of space and time, the texts marked as ‘literary’ as well as language embody this transformed consciousness. The paradigm of post-global literary has to attend to this transformed subjectivities and languages and explain the significance and the implications of such a transformed consciousness.

In my view globalization has altered what the semiotician Yurij Lotman (1984/2005) terms as ‘semiosphere’ we inhabit. Analogy upon which the term ‘semiosphere’ is based is that of ‘biosphere’. The ‘biosphere’ is the term from earth sciences, which indicates the global sum of all ecosystems. Lotman postulated that ‘semantic systems function only by being immersed in a specific semiotic continuum, which is filled with multi-variant semiotic models situated at a range of hierarchic levels’. Lotman opines that ‘semiotic universe may be regarded as the totality of individual texts and isolated languages as they relate to each other…. The semiosphere is that same semiotic space, outside of which semiosis itself cannot exist’. Which means significance of any text, speech act or discourse is realizable only within a particular semiosphere.

Lotman also notes that this concept is linked to a definite semiotic homogeneity and individuality which imply an existence of a boundary between semiosphere and non- or extra semiotic space that surrounds it. Lotman terms this boundary, which is analogous to mathematical notion of border which represents a multiplicity of points, belonging simultaneously to both the internal and external space. This semiotic border is represented according to Lotman by the sum of ‘bilingual translatable filters’, passing through which the text translated into another language, situated outside the given semiosphere.

Because of globalization, I believe, the semiotic borders or boundary which preserves the internal coherence of a semiosphere becomes all the more porous resulting in radical transformation of the sphere in question. Consequently, the status and significance of the texts, identified as ‘literary’ within a given semiosphere also altered. A post-global literary theory will have to account for this altered significance and status of texts within the context of this altered semiosphere. The semiotic universe of today can no longer be delimited to a territory or region nor can be separated by the conventional time zones.

5)       The Third Wave Literary Studies: The Rise of the Literary Machines

The great explosion of personal computers in late seventies and eighties opened up new venues for digital creativity and critical speculation.  Earliest attempts to theorize the emergent trends were in the area of electronic literature, hypertext, cybertext, ‘ergodic literature’, and the human-computer interface as in the Cyborg theory of Donna Haraway (1991).

N. Katherine Hayles in ‘Electronic Literature: What is it?’ (2007), offers definition of electronic literature given by Electronic Literature Organization, as ‘work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.’ She points out that, ‘Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast "digital born," a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer.’ She also emphasizes that the distinction between print and digital literature is not sharp or water tight as, ‘In the contemporary era, both print and electronic texts are deeply interpenetrated by code. Digital technologies are now so thoroughly integrated with commercial printing processes that print is more properly considered a particular output form of electronic text than an entirely separate medium. Nevertheless, electronic text remains distinct from print in that it literally cannot be accessed until it is performed by properly executed code. The immediacy of code to the text's performance is fundamental to understanding electronic literature, especially to appreciating its specificity as a literary and technical production.’ She points out the different types of electronic literatures like hypertext literature and interactive fiction.

The term ‘hypertext’ was coined by Ted Nelson in the sixties to indicate a special type of database system in which objects (text, pictures, music, programs, and so on) can be creatively linked to each other. When you select an object, you can see all the other objects that are linked to it. You can move from one object to another even though they might have very different forms. For example, while reading a document about Mozart, you might click on the phrase Violin Concerto in A Major, which could display the written score or perhaps even invoke a recording of the concerto. Clicking on the name Mozart might cause various illustrations of Mozart to appear on the screen. The icons that you select to view associated objects are called Hypertext links or buttons.

Hypertext systems are particularly useful for organizing and browsing through large databases that consist of disparate types of information. Hypertext actually is a way of dealing with information overload. As can be seen, the term hypertext can be misleading due inclusion of such as graphics, animations, video and digitized sounds. The term ‘hypermedia’ seems to be a better term for these kinds of texts.

The development of electronic literature has coincided with the growth and proliferation of hypertext development software and the emergence of electronic networks. Two software programs specifically designed for hypertextual literature Storyspace and Intermedia became available in the 1990's. Storyspace v2.0, a professional level hypertext development tool, is available from Eastgate Systems. Several important hypertexts fictions were created in the nineties which include Michael Joyce's afternoon: a story, Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl, and Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden. Theorists like Jay David Bolter, George Landow, Stuart Moulthrop, J.Yellowlees Douglas, Robert Coover, and Michael Joyce, among others, have made significant contribution to the area. Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space (1991) outlines a historical view of hypertext as a successor to print technology and George Landow’s Hypertext (1992) views the development of hypertext from the framework of poststructuralist theories of Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Giles Deleuze. Hypertext theories usually see hypertext as a postmodern mode of communication which exemplifies theorization of the likes of Jean Baudriallard, and JF Lyotard, in the sense that it occupies a virtual simulated space, enmeshing with other multiple texts, and increased reader participation in the process of producing reading experience.

The focus of hypertext and interactive fiction is on what is termed as ‘non-linearity’, interactivity, changed sensory experience of the reader and heightened participatory involvement of the reader.  In fact, theorists like Aarseth (1997) emphasize these aspects emergent literature instead of its digitalness or electronic media. He coins terms like ‘cybertext’ and ‘ergodic literature’ to highlight this altered reading experience. Aarseth calls for the need to evolve a new paradigm a new way of theorizing literature based on this rather different cultural experience (1999, 31) rather than following the older paradigms  of literary theory based on poststructuralism and postmodernism  like Landow and other hypertext theorists do. Using cybernetic theories of communication, Aarseth coins the concept of ‘cybertext’ which is focuses on the mechanical organization of the text, by positing the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange. However, it also centers attention on the consumer, or user, of the text, as a more integrated figure than even reader-response theorists would claim. The performance of their reader takes place all in his head, while the user of cybertext also performs in an extranoematic sense.’ Aarseth emphasizes the fact that the concept of cybertext is not limited to digital or electronic text but also the written or printed text like the I-Ching which require more than usual active participation of the reader, or texts like Nabakov‘s Pale Fire or a play like Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand (1936), which is about a trial where members of the audience are picked to be the jury. The play has two endings, depending on the jury's verdict. Cybertext, according to Aarseth is not a "new," "revolutionary" form of text, with capabilities only made possible through the invention of the digital computer. Neither is it a radical break with old-fashioned textuality, although it would be easy to make it appear so. Cybertext, according to Aarseth, is a perspective on all forms of textuality, a way to expand the scope of literary studies to include phenomena that today are perceived as outside of, or marginalized by, the field of literature--or even in opposition to it, for purely extraneous reasons

To describe such literary texts, digital or printed, where reader decides not only the meaning of the text, but also the course and the outcome of the plot, Aarseth uses a term ‘ergodic literature’. The term ‘ergodic’ according to Aarseth is taken from physics and is derived from the Greek words ergons meaning work and hodos meaning the path. He says, ‘In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. If ergodic literature is to make sense as a concept, there must also be nonergodic literature, where the effort to traverse the text is trivial, with no extranoematic responsibilities placed on the reader except (for example) eye movement and the periodic or arbitrary turning of pages.’ The most important element of ergodic literature is its ‘game-world’ experience. Replying to the charges that, ‘these texts (hypertexts, adventure games, etc.) aren't essentially different from other literary texts, because (1) all literature is to some extent indeterminate, nonlinear, and different for every reading, (2) the reader has to make choices in order to make sense of the text, and finally (3) a text cannot really be nonlinear because the reader can read it only one sequence at a time, anyway.’ Aarseth replies that these objections typically came from persons who, while well versed in literary theory, had no firsthand experience of the hypertexts, adventure games, or multi-user dungeons I was talking about. He notes that the term ‘non-linear’ was one the reasons of this confusion. In common literary theory it is used to describe narratives that lacked or subverted a straightforward story line; for others, paradoxically, the word could not describe Aarseth’s material, since the act of reading must take place sequentially, word for word. Aarseth makes a crucial distinction between the reading experience of cybertext and ergodic literature and the reading of non-ergodic literature by using following analogies,

‘A reader, however strongly engaged in the unfolding of a narrative, is powerless. Like a spectator at a soccer game, he may speculate, conjecture, extrapolate, even shout abuse, but he is not a player. Like a passenger on a train, he can study and interpret the shifting landscape, he may rest his eyes wherever he pleases, even release the emergency brake and step off, but he is not free to move the tracks in a different direction. He cannot have the player's pleasure of influence: "Let's see what happens when I do this." The reader's pleasure is the pleasure of the voyeur. Safe, but impotent.

However, on the other hand, the reader of ergodic literature and cybertext is,

‘ Is not safe, and therefore, it can be argued, she is not a reader. The cybertext puts its would-be reader at risk: the risk of rejection. The effort and energy demanded by the cybertext of its reader raise the stakes of interpretation to those of intervention. Trying to know a cybertext is an investment of personal improvisation that can result in either intimacy or failure. The tensions at work in a cybertext, while not incompatible with those of narrative desire, are also something more: a struggle not merely for interpretative insight but also for narrative control: "I want this text to tell my story; the story that could not be without me." In some cases this is literally true. In other cases, perhaps most, the sense of individual outcome is illusory, but nevertheless the aspect of coercion and manipulation is real.’

Aarseth attempts rethink their concepts and the metaphoricity of terms from literary studies and narratology. He is keen to point out that the term cybertext is used to describe ‘a broad textual media category’. It is not in itself a literary genre of any kind. Cybertexts share a principle of calculated production, but beyond that there is no obvious unity of aesthetics, thematics, literary history, or even material technology. He notes that the cybertext reader is ‘a player, a gambler’ and the cybertext is a game-world or world-game and ‘ It is possible to explore, get lost, and discover secret paths in these texts, not metaphorically, but through the topological structures of the textual machinery. This is not a difference between games and literature but rather between games and narratives. To claim that there is no difference between games and narratives is to ignore essential qualities of both categories.’

 According to Aarseth, hypertext and interactive fiction would fall under the category of digital ergodic literature. Ergodic literature thus is a broader category of literature than hypertext interactive fiction and parallels to postmodern poststructuralist categories of ‘ writerly texts’. The close link between postmodernist and poststructuralist theoretical categories and ergodic literature can be theorized more clearly from a semiotic perspective.  The very idea of distinction between verbal, written and audio-visual texts collapses, once we use the theoretical framework of semiotics.

However, Aarseth says,
‘As the cyber prefix indicates, the text is seen as a machine--not metaphorically but as a mechanical device for the production and consumption of verbal signs. Just as a film is useless without a projector and a screen, so a text must consist of a material medium as well as a collection of words. The machine, of course, is not complete without a third party, the (human) operator, and it is within this triad that the text takes place. The boundaries between these three elements are not clear but fluid and transgressive, and each part can be defined only in terms of the other two. Furthermore, the functional possibilities of each element combine with those of the two others to produce a large number of actual text types.’

We can consider the works of a radical visual artist named Eduardo Kac in the light of above discussion. Eduardo Kac is an internationally recognized experimenter with new media and art. Biography on his fascinating website tells us that Kac is, ‘A pioneer of telecommunications art in the pre-Web '80s, Eduardo Kac (pronounced "Katz") emerged in the early '90s with his radical works combining telerobotics and living organisms. His visionary integration of robotics, biology and networking explores the fluidity of subject positions in the post-digital world.’ He composes what is termed as ‘holopoetry’ or poetry conceived, made and displayed holographically, and ‘space poetry’ or poetry conceived for, realized with, and experienced in conditions of micro or zero gravity. In other words, Space Poetry is poetry that requires and explores weightlessness (“micro or zero gravity”) as a writing medium. A holopoem is holo-textual work displayed in three-dimensional space, and change according to time and the viewer’s position in relation to the text.

Glazier (2002) discusses Kac’s holopoem named ‘Adhuc’ as follows, ‘ Kac’s holopoem “Adhuc” (shown from six different points of view on Kac’s page), for instance, is “an example of the complex discontinuities that structure the syntax of ... holopoems” (“Holopoetry: Complete”). In it, letters and words seem to drift into the distance, superimposed on each other, eerily suspended in a spherical mist, or atmosphere, the color of which varies from red, green, yellow, and blue, depending on the viewer’s position. Words that are readable include “whenever,” “ever” and “or never,” reaffirming the temporal nature of the piece and the fact that the text is not fixed.’

Kac’s more recent works explore convergence between digital and the biological. In his online essay on ‘ Biopoetry’, Kac says, ‘ Since the 1980s poetry has effectively moved away from the printed page. From the early days of the minitel to the personal computer as a writing and reading environment, we have witnessed the development of new poetic languages. Video, holography, programming and the web have further expanded the possibilities and the reach of this new poetry. Now, in a world of clones, chimeras, and transgenic creatures, it is time to consider new directions for poetry in vivo. Below I propose the use of biotechnology and living organisms in poetry as a new realm of verbal, paraverbal and nonverbal creation.’ Kac goes on to discuss twenty kinds of biotechnological art practice of biopoetry including ‘nanopoetry’, ‘transgenic’ poetry’ and ‘atomic writing’. Transgenic poetry for instance would, ‘ synthesize DNA according to invented codes to write words and sentences using combinations of nucleotides. Incorporate these DNA words and sentences into the genome of living organisms, which then pass them on to their offspring, combining with words of other organisms. Through mutation, natural loss and exchange of DNA material new words and sentences will emerge. Read the transpoem back via DNA sequencing.’ Kac, his website informs us,  opened a new direction for contemporary art with his "transgenic art"--first with a groundbreaking transgenic work entitled Genesis (1999), which included an "artist's gene" he invented, and then with his fluorescent rabbit called Alba (2000).

Using language of genes to create new organism might be an excellent metaphor of how poets actually ‘create’ new works by modifying the genetic make up of the language, but in Kac it becomes a literal experiment to fuse biotechnology with creativity and pull out fluorescent rabbits out of his magician’s hat. Kac’s website tells us that Kac merges multiple media and biological processes to create hybrids from the conventional operations of existing communications systems. These ‘hybrids’ can be called cyborgs and science fiction of yesteryears becomes a lived reality in contemporary times.

One remembers Aarseth’s observations regarding the fluid and transgressive boundaries which separate machine, human beings and language would invariably lead to profound questions regarding subjectivity, identity and culture. Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ (1991) has offered deeply political and powerful theorization of the very blurring of borders which separate human body and subjectivity from machines from the perspective of the ‘third wave feminism’ or rather Gender studies.

The myth and image of cyborg, in Haraway’s formulation, cannot be classified as human being or as a living being or even as a machine. This collapse of boundaries, which separate these categories, result in deconstruction of the western thought based on the essentialist, originological and metaphysical systems. Haraway notes that cyborgs are not just beings living in science fiction but, ‘by the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. This cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politic’.

The Cyborg myth resists essentialist and totalizing discourses of the west. She points out, ‘The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity.’ She further comments, ‘ The cyborg skips the step of original unity, of identification with nature in the Western sense. This is its illegitimate promise that might lead to subversion of its teleology as star wars. The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence.’ The Cyborg Manifesto declares that it is not just the god who is dead but also the goddess and declares I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.

6)      Rebuilding Babel:

I believe that the most important problem with the New Media theories of hypertext, electronic literature, cybertext and ‘ergodic literature is their obsession with digital media at the expense of locating the social and historical context of globalization. The new media theory seems to overlook the complex multilevel and plural dynamics of globalization.

A more comprehensive post-global paradigm for literary studies have to take following into account the altered nature of literary text, its ergodic and hypermedia qualities, the altered role of the reader as the producer of the text in a radical way and the altered semiosphere and changed ‘ deep fundamentals’  of the post-global world.

However, the velocity at which cultural landscape of the world and breakneck speed at which new technology is emerging making today’s technology obsolete makes it impossible to frame an overarching ‘global’ theory of literature possible. Probably in the Lyotardian postmodern condition, there is no need for newer ‘ metanarratives’ once the older ones have become ‘incredulous’. Probably to wish for such a theory is outrageous. Such a desire is hubris of the builders of Babel, which the Almighty (the Almighty, who?) dislikes and hence descends on the theorists and scatters them and confuses their tongues.

Suniti Namjoshi’sBuilding Babel: A Novel with Interactive Hyperlinks (1996), an obvious example of ‘ ergodic literature’ dramatizes the problem.  The novel is ‘about the process of building culture in the teeth of Crone Kronos’. Namjoshi is the post-feminist fabulist of our age. Her introduction 2 enacts an imaginary ‘power struggle between writer and reader’ where the reader demands to know on whose terms she should read the text and why.  The fascinating exchange is typically about ergodic nature of the texts such as Building Babel which claims to give a different kind of power to the reader. The novel consists of characters from fictions, myths and fairy tales. However, one the most important character is Crone Kronus whose disciples want to build Babel. Where precisely was Babel built?

“In the Gobi or the Sahara? Or the Rajputana Desert? Where do the sands sweep to the sea? Babel was built in your brain cells. Surely you know the memes of Babel are colonists. They are your RAM, your instant available, accessible memory. The ruins of Babel, the growth and degradation, the endless adaptation, the building and rebuilding, they are on your hard disk.’ (1996: 7)

If the memes of Babel are colonist then it is clear why the Lord God scattered it. But the building seems to be, in Namjoshi’s fable, more of a Sisyphusian task of endless adaptation, building and rebuilding.  The theories, concepts, paradigms come with an expiry date and from their ruins one rebuilds structures. However, our predicament is that the next date is the expiry date, today’s software is no longer compatible with yesterdays’ operating system, and tomorrow’s applications will probably no longer run on our present operating systems.

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