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Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste

Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste

Toral Jatin Gajarawala
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste
    Book Description:

    William Riley Parker Prize for an outstanding article published in PMLA "Some Time between Revisionist and Revolutionary: Unreading History in Dalit Literature" May 2011 issue of PMLA Untouchable Fictions considers the crisis of literary realism--progressive, rural, regionalist, experimental--in order to derive a literary genealogy for the recent explosion of Dalit ("untouchable caste") fiction. Drawing on a wide array of writings from Premchand and Renu in Hindi to Mulk Raj Anand and V. S. Naipaul in English, Gajarawala illuminates the dark side of realist complicity: a hidden aesthetics and politics of caste. How does caste color the novel? What are its formal tendencies? What generic constraints does it produce? Untouchable Fictions juxtaposes the Dalit text and its radical critique with a history of progressive literary movements in South Asia. Gajarawala reads Dalit writing dialectically, doing justice to its unique and groundbreaking literary interventions while also demanding that it be read as an integral moment in the literary genealogy of the 20th and 21st centuries. This book, grounded in the fields of postcolonial theory, South Asian literatures, and cultural studies, makes a crucial intervention into studies of literary realism and will be important for all readers interested in the problematic relations between aesthetics and politics and between social movements and cultural production.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5048-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Three Burnings: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-31)

    In Dalit literature, everything is metanarrative. Born from the self-consciousness of any literature of radical protest, Dalit (untouchable caste) literature,¹ engendered by caste oppression and caste consciousness, occasions a self-reflexivity that works at several levels: language and metaphor, political philosophy, and literary production. But its metanarrativity is unusual in that it is firmly cast in an aesthetics of modern realism, both derivative and new, individualized and collective.

    Largely a product of the last two decades, Dalit literature has flourished in the Hindi language, across the Hindi belt,² in the form of short stories, novels, autobiographies and poetry, generating its own...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Dalit Limit Point: Realism, Representation, and Crisis in Premchand
    (pp. 32-67)

    Modern Hindi literature, it is said, begins with Premchand. The early nineteenth-century writers of Hindi, producing “literature” in an only recently standardized and consolidated “language,” were writing pedagogical treatises, educational texts for students at Fort William College in Calcutta, “fiction” created by the political mandate of the British East India Company. Influenced by the literary world of North India and Urdu, these prescribed texts fit snugly into the generic grids then available to prose narrative: romance, fantasy, social uplift; Lallujilal’s 1802Premsagarintroduces Krishna, ensconced in the cyclical narratives that characterize Sanskrit but in a simple Hindi prose. There were...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Modernism, Marxism, Metaphor: The Origins of a Literary Politics of Particularism
    (pp. 68-96)

    The question of Dalitchetna(consciousness) is the central question of contemporary Dalit literature, a revision of a very old problematic that has haunted the literature of progressivism, social realism, socialist realism, anticolonialism and protest: How does the literary text articulate and propel an explicit political awakening? The consciousness of rights and resistance—oftenthesingular factor in the determination of the protagonist asprotagonist—is the most prescribed aspect of the Dalit literary text, which may vary thematically, politically and aesthetically, contingent upon its evocation of such sentiment. As such it becomes one of the most defining features of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE A Perfect Whole: Knowledge by Transcription and Rural Regionalism
    (pp. 97-128)

    InDalit sahitya ka saundaryashastra(The Aesthetics of Dalit Literature) Hindi writer and critic Omprakash Valmiki lays out the basic conditions for Dalitchetna, or “Dalit consciousness,” that crucial element for the production of Dalit literature. His list of thirteen items includes Ambedkarism, anti-capitalism, anti-brahminism, and anti-traditionalism in the realm of literary aesthetics. But after the elaboration of this list, Valmiki takes a moment to remind the reader of Ambedkar’s comments on village life in India. “There is no place in India’s villages for independence, equality, and brotherhood. For Brahmins, Indian villages are heaven, but for Dalits they are nothing...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Casteless Modernities: The Contemporary Anglophone Novel and Its Invisible Interlocutors
    (pp. 129-167)

    In a Dalit autobiography from the 1950s, Hazari’sI Was an Outcaste,¹ the narrator writes: “I could not make up my mind, whether to fight for the freedom of India or to fight for the freedom of untouchables from the degradation of the caste system” (92). The Dalit perspective that emerges from the narrative notwithstanding, the narrator has isolated one of the central crises of nationalism in India; castelessness was the modern imperative. In the polarized atmosphere of North India in the 1920s, the movement for the uplift of the untouchables was seen as irreconcilable with the major anticolonial struggle...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Some Time between Revisionist and Revolutionary …: Reading History in Dalit Textuality
    (pp. 168-196)

    In one telling moment, the narrator of Omprakash Valmiki’sJoothan¹ (one of the many Hindi Dalit autobiographies) recalls a Brahmin teacher who has instructed his students to rip out several controversial pages on Dalit history from their school primer. Officially sanctioned by the textbooks of postindependence schools that have opened their doors to untouchables for the first time, the pages on Dr. Ambedkar’s movement remain on the floor. For the narrator, this incident is a sign indicative of the hostile atmosphere in which the Dalit community must live. But it is also a reflection on historical erasure and excision, which...

  10. Epilogue: Aesthetics and Their Afterlives
    (pp. 197-206)

    Identarian literary movements draw their strength from past ideological failures while being deeply indebted to the cultural politics, and even the forms, of the movements they leave behind. This is in both the Adornian sense of the cultural scars that remain, marring the newness of any artistic project, as well as in the more capacious sense of the literary genealogy. Michael Denning writes that the “aspirations and aesthetics of the novelists’ international remain the forgotten repressed history behind the contemporary globalization of the novel” (72). Yet this repressed history of progressive literary and cultural solidarities, inspired largely by the Communist...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 207-232)
    (pp. 233-250)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 251-262)