Textual practices in 19th century South Asia



One of the much debated issues within the field of south Asian studies is the nature and origin of ‘novel’. People have pointed out that the older belief that when Indians started to write novels in 19th century they merely imitated the

European form. It has been noted that much more complex processes were underway than mere imitation. One of my favorite theses comes from Aniket Jaavare who terms it a generic translation. In discussing an early novel written in Marathi, Aniket argues shows how there is mixing of the European prose narrative style and the poetic style of narration commonly found in Sanskrit literature. He goes on to argue that possibly what is happening in 19th century is not so much imitation of European novel, but derivation of the genre which is then mould to the local purposes of the Indian writer. For example one such purpose was to modernize one’s language.

Novel writing is one of the forms of textualising that south
Asia learnt from the colonizer. The modern genres of history, autobiography, journalese are all, along with novel, new to the south Asian culture. Learning these therefore meant that a sort of losing of ones language as these affected the languages. Therefore, the newness of ‘writing’ a novel is also a beginning to alter one’s language, to cut one’s tongue vis a vis the colonizer’s tongue. This space of newness is at once a novel mode of knowledge production as well as one where a negotiated settlement is taking place between the older and the new forms of knowledge production. Thus the emergence of these textual practices is engaged in complex relation of absorption, re-formation, and internalization.




One response »

  1. That was an interesting comment on “textual practices”. I also think that it was some sort of practical complexity that they faced while mixing narrative style with poetic style, a transition from poetic to prose, linguistically, which changed/modernised/transformed one’s language,practice, genre.
    Indeed, a Benjaminian point!

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