Report on the International Conference on “Bakhtin in India

During the inauguration

Sura P.Rath

The International conference on “Bakhtin in India: Exploring the Dialogic Potential in Self, Culture and History” was jointly organized by The Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences and The Forum on Contemporary Theory during 19 – 21 August 2013 at INFLIBNET, Gandhinagar. The event’s inaugural session was marked by the words of the Chancellor of The Central University of Gujarat, Y. K. Alagh followed by the thematic introduction by Lakshmi Bandlamudi (Professor of Psychology, LaGuardia Community College , City University of New York), convener of the Conference. There were about hundred participants at the conference. The keynote address on “Carnivalesque Laughter of the Great Brahmin: Tradition, Transgression and Liberty ” was delivered by Sunthar Visuvalingam (independent consultant, hosting a multilingual website to facilitate international collaborative research on intercultural issues, best known for formulating “transgressive sacrality”). The talk focused on the riotous carnival that had punctuated the ordered traditional lives of traditional societies by collective suspension of religious norms. During the talk Visuvalingam mentioned about the Mahabrahmana’s carnivalesque role in both ‘obsolete’ Vedic ritual and contemporary Tantric ideology. Also transgressive sacrality, ‘anti-social’ laughter (attahasa) occupied a section of his talk. His talk was directed towards the humanist principle of svatantrya (freedom) at the hrdaya (heart). Sura P. Rath’s (Professor of English, University of North Texas at Dallas ) plenary talk on “Carnivalesque (Non) Closures in Salaam Bombay (1988) and Kahaani (2012): Social Critique, Narrative Circle , and Epistemic Resolution” addressed the public social concerns seen in the light of carnivalesque non-closure. Both the movies project a development of character and later the characters immerse and fade into a ‘funeral’ crowd, where their private voices are overlapped in a public chant of death and resurrection, open for a sequel. Very interestingly, Professor Rath illustrated the concept of unfinalizability in Bakhtin’s dialogism. In another plenary talk, Professor Craig Brandist (Professor of Cultural Theory and Intellectual History, Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies and Director of the Bakhtin Centre at the University of Sheffield, UK) explored the ideas of how Indian narratives made a foray into the universal historical poetics contributing greatly to the history of literature. Drawing on Bakhtin’s work of the late 1930s the speaker emphasized that all languages are of a mixed nature and the constituents in forming that language were the result of a universal process of material and cognitive development. In “The Rule of Freedom: Rabelais, Bakhtin, and Abhinavagupta” Elizabeth Chalier-Visuvalingam (teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Western philosophy and French literature for the French Baccalaureate) began her plenary talk with a parallel demonstration of the medieval Christian dispensation and the topsy-turvy periodic license of the popular carnival. The speaker tried to contextualize the carnivalesque laughter in elite esotericism of India . In dealing with Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World, Elizabeth went back to the sources of Bakhtin’s concept of carnival. She cited illustrations from Gargantua (1534) and Pantagruel (1532). In Indian context she traced the element of carnival in the folk cultures. She portrayed it not as a social revolt, but as the liberation of consciousness both from external constraints and internal compulsions. 

                    A Parallel Session in Progres                                                                A Section of the Audience

            Besides the keynote address and the plenary talks, the conference hosted a diverse range of papers although all unifying under the banner of the precepts of Bakhtin. But the diversity lends itself to the application of Bakhtin’s theories to so many varied areas. Sessions were arranged under panels like postcolonialsm/postmodernism, politics of dialogue, politics of marginality, Indian novels, Indian epics, gendered chronotopes, performance traditions, and others. 

                  E.V. Ramakrishnan and Craig Brandis                                   Elizabeth's Plenary Presentation  

Paper presenters

            The 3-day conference came to a closure on 21st august 2013 with the valedictory session. Lakshmi Bandlamudi gave a brief overview of the papers presented in the conference; Craig Brandist presented the future scope of Bakhtin’s theories over ages, time and places. E. V. Ramakrishnan and P. C. Kar brought over a new beginning to the end by suggesting some possible follow up conference theme on Abhinavagupta.          

Shreyasee Datta, Academic Fellow, Forum on Contemporary Theory