Issue of Identity in Literary Categorizations

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Are all works of dalit literature about being dalit? Or women’s literature about being woman? These questions have often been raised and answered in varying tones. What is at issue, as I see it, is the very validity of these questions. Of course we are familiar with how these categories are at once enabling and traps. They are enabling as long as the category of dalit / women offers a space for assertive mode of representation. They are a trap as the denomination perpetuates a ghettoizing attitude and remains condescending. So we say Mr. Dhasal is a dalit writer and then wrap him up in the velvet title so as not to allow his poetry to have any bearing on the ‘Marathi’ or ‘Indian’ poetry.

Aniket Jaaware has argued somewhere that Dhasal is preeminently a modernist poet. He would say that he is modern as well as modernist unlike many of the ‘mainstream’ modernist writers. The crux of his argument is that being modern requires not only a poetics but also a politics that holds onto and asserts modern values like equality and fraternity. Now, I believe, Aniket here is offering a valid reason for breaking open the shell of categories and bring Dhasal (for example) onto the stage to upstage establishment appropriation of modernism that simultaneously would keep Dhasal (and such) out.

Thus the politics of categories of dalit and women in literary discourses is one that aims at restriction; further such categorizations also allow the ‘mainstream’ from remaining unaffected by what is happening in these ‘categorized’ discourses.

There is however one more reason why these categorizations are unproductive: unlike such literary categorizations as progressivist, modernist, expressionist etc. dalit and women are categories based on identity. Here, the literary discourse ‘names’, on the basis of identity, a form of discourse that ideally aims to dismantle the logic behind such identities.

Now, if we take into account the problematization of the discrete notions of gender, caste, class etc. then too we would head in the direction of dismissing these categories as unproductive. It is therefore important to see that dalit literature / women’s literature / queer literature are modes of altering the very status of the condition of the literary discourses. That is, ones which put the established modes of literary discourses under duress to make them more political.

It is in the way these set up a negotiating relation with the so called ‘mainstream’ discourses that their politics is most explosive, and not in being just and realistic representations of their ‘supposed’ identities.   

3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Shashi Deshpande and Indian Feminism « sotosay

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