Defamiliarizing India : Cosmopolitanism as aesthetic/political survival ? Center for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Series seminar

Intervenant : Laetitia Zecchini

SOAS (School of Oriental and Asian Studies)
Russell Square, College Buildings, Room L67

Drawing from reflections conducted in the context of a collective research seminar on "Literature and Cosmopolitanism" at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, and drawing from individual work on Bombay poets and Indian modernisms, I would like to discuss the notion of cosmopolitanism in relation to the practice of several post-independence Indian writers and artists. This cosmopolitanism must be understood less as a form of anti-nationalism (for which these writers and artists are often being attacked in India), than as a challenge to the idea of a « national literature », a « national language » and to all attempts at defining Indianness in singular, definite or appropriable terms. This cosmopolitanism is inseparable from the history of colonization, from the « consumption » and practice of translation, and from the experience, the defense and the expression of multiplicity.

Poets and artists such as Arun Kolatkar, from Bombay, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, from Allahabad or Gulammohammed Sheikh from Baroda defamiliarize India. Against filial and national assignations they affiliate themselves to transnational communities of imagination across boundaries of time, space and languages. Their art, which is also constructed like an assemblage of quotations, stories, texts and images that are "poached" from different traditions, reclaimed and recycled, testify to the plurality of worlds and temporalities to which they belong. This plurality is increasingly threatened by the present « de-cosmopolitanization » (Arjun Appadurai) and ethnicization of the Indian nation and its culture. Far from being an abstract ideal or a « doctrine for cosmocrats », cosmopolitanism must here be conceived as a practice of writing and/or painting, as a political project and struggle, and as a condition of survival that includes and exceeds aesthetic survival

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