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Report on Fourteenth National Workshop

 Globalization and the Place of Literature

 5-7 March 2010


Globalization and the Place of Literature was the theme of the Fourteenth National Workshop conducted by the Forum on Contemporary Theory, Baroda during 5-7 March, 2010.  The Workshop was organized around readings from texts selected by the faculty; public lectures by invited scholars, and presentations by the participants. The Workshop explored the ways in which we conceive of literature in our globalized world. Dr. Alan G. Johnson, an Associate Professor of English at Idaho State University, USA who is currently on a Fulbright grant at Mumbai University and Dr. D. Venkat Rao, Professor of English at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad were the Workshop faculty. Dr. J. Birjepatil, Professor, Marlboro University, USA delivered the Keynote address.


Inauguration and Keynote Address

In the inaugural function, Professor P.C. Kar welcomed the participants and gave a brief outline of the activities of the Forum. He contemplated on the implications of the workshop theme and illustrated how reading makes one a global citizen by making inroads to far off cultures, different ideas and world views. He opined that literature gives glimpses of regions, people and ways of life which are unfamiliar to us in a sensitive and insightful way. Since the Forum caters to academics across the globe and through its activities, it also promotes the globalization of knowledge and ideas.


In his introductory lecture on the Workshop theme, Alan Johnson made the participants consider the impact of globalization on literature in our increasingly interconnected world and also on the profession of literary studies. Through several examples taken from life and literature, he illustrated how literature is unavoidably involved in the world we inhabit and opined that we, in different capacities such as writers, readers, scholars, students of literature and so on could sense the impact of this involvement. He reviewed various theories on globalization and literature and floated many an idea in the air.


Prof. Birjepatil delivering the keynote address


In the keynote address, Birjepatil pondered on globalization and literature from different perspectives such as transmission of literary theory, translation, creative writing, reading across cultures, the economy of publication with global readership in mind, texts that deal with ‘global’ experiences, historicity of texts and new developments in post-colonial theory. He chose the works of Salman Rushdie, Naipaul and texts like the early works of Melville, Hawthorne, etc. to illustrate what could the different approaches to literature be in the context of colonialization and globalization. He spoke at length about the novel, Netherland by Joseph O’Neil which depict September 11, immigrants or cricket as indicative of certain traits or consequences of globalization. Netherland uses the technique of lyrical Realism that may remind one of Balzac and Flaubert. Being a post-catastrophe novel, it depicts the anxieties of living in a globalized world.


Mary Bachaspatimayum, the program officer of the Centre proposed the Vote of thanks.



Workshop Sessions Conducted by Alan Johnson

The Workshop sessions were conducted by Alan G. Johnson on all the three days and he explored the possibilities of globalization beyond its impacts on global economy. Participants were asked to go through the workshop material given to them and the key ideas of each essay were explained and discussed. Participants voiced their ideas and clarified their doubts during the Workshop sessions. Echoing Susie O’Brien and Imre Szeman and describing globalization as a complex economic, social, cultural and political phenomenon, Alan expressed the view that globalization and its impacts could be comprehended through its realization in a variety of narrative forms. In this sense, the narratives of globalization jostle with and inflect other narratives. The scope and shape of these narrative forms range from the nationalist investment in globalization to the invocation of individual and minoritarian voices. 


Dr. Alan G. Johnson during a workshop session in progress



Dr. Johnson pointed out that although globalization is not a new development, it has in recent years become a noticeably prominent part of daily conversation. He mentioned that economies are so intricately synchronized as to produce weird “disjunctions,” as Arjun Appadurai describes the phenomenon. According to Alan, Internet, a vital mode of globalized publication, has enhanced the diversity of voices. He drew the attention to the fact that the first targets of repressive regimes are often artists and intellectuals whose cultural and populist capital increase in direct proportion to governmental efforts to silence them and to substantiate this idea, Johnson cited the fate of Nigerian playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa in the 1990s. 


On the second day, views emerged that inevitable outcomes of globalization, such as the power of corporations, the ubiquity of “sameness”, are balanced by apparent benefits. According to Alan, more democratized modes of communication and an increasingly multipolar world are significant among the boons of globalization. This point gave rise to a heated debate among the participants. Johnson expressed his view that in our virtual age there are many valid and suspect popular perception of globalizing forces. Just as Franz Kafka, Albert Camus and Günter Grass focus our attention on very real repercussions of human perception, so do other writers-Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, Ryszard Kapuscinksi-explore such perceptive realities in the global sphere.


The third day’s workshop session addressed the question, how do we engage with literature and literary studies. Alan discussed many possibilities: we can think of literature in the following ways: how literary texts depict globalizing changes and how globalizing changes, including market forces, shape literature, both in form and content. He opened this aspect for discussion: If we indeed live in an increasingly globalized world, how is this world reflected in, or refracted through, literary works? Are form, style, and content in any way affected by a world of increasingly entwined cultures? How and why does the image of home recur so often in recent novels and poems? What does this say about homelessness or homesickness in a broader sense? What is the relation of exile to the image of home, and to the prominent issue of migrancy? What is the relationship between modernity, as traditionally understood, and globalization, and what changes do we see reflected in recent literary works? Is literary taste affected by globalization? If so, how? If not, why not? Has globalization in any way shaped literary representations of gender? Of class? How have concepts of nation changed, if at all? How have our perceptions of space and time changed, according to specific writers? What is the relationship between our present age of economic determinism (if indeed this is the case) and past eras, in terms of literary representations? Have concepts of individual and group identity changed? How do particular works of literature depict, or explore, such concepts as tradition and authenticity? or, conversely, hybridity and biculturalism? What are some effects on literacy, book production, and scholarship in our media-saturated age? Do globalized media markets determine what is published, and where? In what ways do postcolonialism, postmodernism and globalization inflect one another? Finally, what are the stakes for both literary texts and the profession of literary studies? These issues were discussed and the participants’ engagement with the theme of the workshop was remarkable.


Participants’ Presentations


Participants presenting papers


Participants’ presentations complemented the workshop sessions effectively. The essays that were part of the Workshop material approached the questions floated by Alan from different points-of-view and participants also tried to address these issues in the course of their presentations during the Workshop. Besides a number of critical voices, including Arjun Appadurai, Fredric Jameson, Simon Gikandi, and Susie O’Brien & Imre Szeman, writers like Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Kiran Desai, Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga, Joseph O’Neill, Tsitsi Damgarembga, Orhan Pamuk and many more came up as strong presences during the Workshop sessions and discussions. Participants explored the terrains of literary works, theories of history, nation, postcolonial theories, translation, folk culture, films, newspaper reportage and art forms, cultural traditions and the like to understand and problematize the concepts, daunting issues and academic concerns on globalization.


Lectures by D. Venkat Rao

The fundamental question Dr. Rao raised in his lectures for all academics was, "how do and how can the trained literary and culture scholars functioning in a political/ philosophical organization called the university begin to re-turn and re-examine cultural/reflective sources beyond their enframings in the last two centuries?" The inherited legacy of the human/social sciences cannot be comprehended fully if one does not analyze the predominantly verbal-textual mode of its discourse.  Area knowledges are captured and disseminated in print medium and printed material.  He observed that in the epoch of decolonization, as in the earlier colonial period, print technology and print medium were indispensable in the creation and circulation of knowledge. The point that he stressed, the university in India is a colonial implant and is essentially a European implant with all its political philosophical and cultural baggage was thought provoking. According to Dr. Rao, the University is a graft imposed with utter disregard for the tissue texture of the host culture in the Indian context. In his opinion, the humanities that ought to unravel reflective destitution of our times and plunge into the colonial abyss to forge new response to the crisis of the university, succumbs to topical, expedient inquiries whose models are set elsewhere. He expressed the wish that the humanities could have inquired into the philosophical and political implications of the university in its implanted contexts. He again expressed his concern that the humanities in India are yet to reflect on the distance and difference between the mnemopraxial cultures and communities and the violence of mnemotechnical archival mechanisms.


Prof. D. Venkat Rao delivering a lecture during the workshop


Dr. Rao’s second lecture analyzed the crisis of Comparative Literature that seems to lie in the existence of the incomparable. He problematized the concept of comparativity as a ‘cultural universal’ and firmly stated that the Eurocentric models of comparison fail to explain or accommodate the kind of texts produced by oralities or mnemonic cultures. The recent debates about Comparative Literature (ACLA, BCLA) are confined within the Anglo-American context because they rely only on European ‘epistemic orientation’ and could not possibly engage with the impossible epistemic comparativity pertaining to certain other cultures and expressions. It is a challenging situation for countries like India and something could be done to deal with the cultures of memory from the ‘locations of our activity,’ which could be the Universities. Dr. Rao analyzed the heterogeneous Sanskrit tradition and its ‘non-standardized’ forms of reflection and pointed out the conspicuous absence of any comparative impulse or imperative. In this context, radical divergence of formations/articulations of reflection/expression in diverse languages can be traced. One is astounded to see this radical diversity of idiom and it is practically impossible to find a single term that had gained a conceptual stability and cultural normativity in such diverse compositions. His presentations brought together different aspects of his on-going work such as experiments in classroom teaching and its pedagogical contexts in ideation and method, questions of heritage, postcolonial theory, and the lack of suitable of approaches to the pre-modern. He talked in detail about a classroom project, Kalila, which studied the trajectory of the Panchatantra as it moved through history, geographies, cultures, and diverse articulations. Dr. Rao discussed the nuances of the scope and possibilities of translation in this context.


Panel Discussion

Alan G. Johnson expressed his views and concerns about literature studies in the Universities in the globalized world. Humorously describing the crises of ‘Humanities’ as a discipline in his university bringing in several perspectives, he went on to trace how this could be one of the less perceived impacts of the economic implications of globalization. Dr. TRS Sharma discussed three obvious consequences of globalization such as weakening of the nation-state, strengthening of regional/local ties and the third a phenomenal rise of the multinational corporations and along with techno-science, and media hypes of all kinds. He emphasized that McLuhan’s ‘global village’ has been realized with a vengeance.  Dr. Sharma drew attention to Sheldon Pollock’s idea of Sanskrit cosmopolis, a small-scale GL, a phenomenon unparalleled in history as Pollock puts it.  According to Pollock, during the 1st millennium AD one can refer to a pre-modern process of cosmopolitan transculturation when locales ranging from Kashmir and Peshawar eastward to central Vietnam to Indonesia, and from Kathmandu to the southern reaches of India, even Sri Lanka, there arose a shared Sanskrit way of speaking about and conceiving of the nature of political power through the dissemination of Sanskrit.  This happened without any enforcement of military power or any administrative apparatus or religious evangelism! Evaluating critically different stereotypes and theoretical perspectives on globalization, he raised a significant concern: how cultures which are usually embedded in national traditions can be transformed into a trans-national category? Dr. Rao observed that we live in destitute postcolonial times, destitute times for thought and reflection. According to him, destitution in matters of thinking concerns the inability to decide what questions to ask and what inquiries to pursue. The universities of higher learning in his opinion are a telling example of our ailing public institutions. The nature and purpose of the university is not a concern of anybody.  He expressed his concern that the universities in India are not in a position to unravel the epistemic confrontation that the violence initiated in the colonial epoch between embodied and enacted memories and the objectified and archival inscriptions.


Film Screening

The Movie, Ran directed by Akira Kurosawa was screened during the Workshop and it illustrated how the story of King Lear was adapted to the Japanese context. While Kurosawa said that Ran is not a direct adaptation of King Lear, he was influenced by the play and incorporated many elements from it into Ran. However, there are some crucial differences between the two. King Lear is a play about undeserved suffering and Lear himself is at worst a fool. Hidetora, by contrast, has been a cruel warrior for most of his life, a man who ruthlessly murdered men, women, and children to achieve his goals.


In the Open Session, participants expressed their joy in discovering many hitherto unexplored aspects and implications of globalization on literature and culture. The workshop addressed many relevant issues and could open pathways for further analysis.



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