Category Archives: Literary Criticism

“Every country is home to one man and exile to another”



from: google images

T S Eliot’s poem ‘To the Indians who Died in Africa’ is an interesting Eliot piece. It is not often you read a poem by Eliot which refrains from striking the grand pose. He tended to invoke the giant issues of human soul every time he penned a poem, except of course, when he wrote those cat poems. But this is a puzzlingly small-aimed poem. A bit advise not grand wisdom, I guess. That this poem in imbued in the war and empire atmosphere is obvious. What he has to say to the Indians is funnily passive, “Look, it is ok if you die absurdly in a foreign country’.  It is noteworthy how Eliot deploys rhetoric to persuade the reader that it is indeed true that there was a common purpose among the Indian and the English soldiers.

It appears to me that in the first two stanzas the speaker   evokes the image of the ‘normal scene’ so that we see how different it is for one to die in a foreign country. Then of course he goes on to assert that this need no more be seen as unusual or as tragic. He seems to suggest that the place where a man meets his destiny is his destination. He associates destiny with the inevitable culmination of one’s life as well as one’s efforts. He suggests that the divide between home and exile is illusory; that the opposition between ‘our’ and ‘your’ is not real. Every country will have such places where ‘foreigners’ are buried (whether it is the English midlands or some village in Punjab – ‘Five Rivers’). He emphasises that the common purpose really erases the differences that notions of ‘home’ and ‘exile’ foster; the divide that notions of national difference highlight. The death of an Indian soldier in Africa fighting Germany and defending England may appear absurd. But the speaker points out that the Indian and the English soldiers are united in a common purpose. As for greater meaning in such lives and deaths, he says it is to be seen only after ‘final judgment’.


To the Indians Who Died in Africa

* T. S. Eliot


A man’s destination is his own village,

His own fire, and his wife’s cooking;

To sit in front of his own door at sunset

And see his grandson, and his neighbour’s grandson

Playing in the dust together.


Scarred but secure, he has many memories

Which return at the hour of conversation,

(The warm or the cool hour, according to the climate)

Of foreign men, who fought in foreign places,

Foreign to each other.


A man’s destination is not his destiny,

Every country is home to one man

And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely

At one with his destiny, that soil is his.

Let his village remember.


This was not your land, or ours: but a village in the Midlands,

And one in the Five Rivers, may have the same graveyard.

Let those who go home tell the same story of you:

Of action with a common purpose, action

None the less fruitful if neither you nor we

Know, until the judgement after death,

What is the fruit of action.


Eliot, T. S. “To the Indians Who Died in Africa.” Collected Poems 1909-1962


This is what Narayan Chandran has to say about this poem:

It is intriguing that T. S. Eliot has repeatedly drawn upon Indic sources, especially the Bhagavad-Gita and its philosophy of disinterested action, while writing on war and world affairs through the 1940s.  Eliot’s Occasional Verses, particularly “To the Indians who Died in Africa,” betray the poet’s imperialist biases, unlike much of his poetry, in which they do not seem to surface visibly as in his prose writings and conversations. Couched in the language and imagery of the Gita, Eliot seems to tell the Indians that their action is its own reward; the irony hardens as we recall historical facts and situations that drove hapless Indians to support the Allied war effort in many theaters outside India. The essay also looks at two other British writers on Indian themes, Kipling and Forster, whose texts seem to cast an interesting sidelight on “action,” whose punning resonance Eliot seems to relish in writing his war poems. Eliot, evidently, had little use for the philosophy he quoted back to the distressed Indians.

* Chandran, K. Narayana – “A receipt for deceit: T. S. Eliot’s ‘To the Indians who Died in Africa”.  Journal of Modern Literature March 22, 2007.

A.K. Ramanujan’s ‘A River’


image from: the telegraph

image from: the telegraph

R. Parthasarathy, in his introductory note on Ramanujan in Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, reads ‘A River’ as a poem that exposes the callousness of the old and the new poets to suffering. But the irony in the poem extends to the speaker also, mocking the irrelevances he indulges in.

There are people who hold AKR very highly as a poet primarily for the technical finesse of his poems. One of the legends about him is that he used to revise his poems umpteen times, some undergoing as many revisions as sixty. It shows in his poems. No flab in them, pared to the minimum, enriched in possibilities through irony, line division and word placement.

A.K. Ramanujan in his poetry is a modernist to the T. In his themes as well as poetic strategies, he displays the international modernist attitude. He is right there with other modernists in writing about the existential issues, about the tension between being and world, about duality in relation to past, about scrutinising the self. His poems deploy all the modernist poetic trappings: tension, irony, obscurity, fragmentation, montage-like structure, ambivalence, imagistic, concrete.

“A River” immediately invokes binary structures: “new poets” and “old poets”; city of “temples and poets”; songs of “cities and temples”; the flood in the poems and as “people” saw it; a “couple of cows”; pregnant woman with “identical twins” etc.

The poem also presents alternative perceptions of the river in Madurai. One of them is available in poetry – old and new – which “sang” of cities, temples and the river in flood. On the other hand, “people everywhere” saw something else, which the speaker also concurs with. The speaker of this poem as the persona “he” has seen Madurai and has heard reports of the flood. The river as seen by the speaker is different from this report, which in turn is different from the description available in poetry old and new.

Thus, the view available of the river is diverse. The old and new poets see only the richness of the river when in flood; they see none of its impoverishment during summer. How about the present poets? This speaker sees the impoverishment during summer and the damage it causes during flood. He sees no richness. Thus, a dual view is available from the poets.

People seem to have a different “kind” of view. People seem to see the river in a contingent manner – as the flood is rising. The speaker-persona has his own report, which is different from the view of the old and new poets or the views of the people. He seems to pick up the details from the oral reports “everywhere” and then adds his own “poetic details” that veer away from the pathos of what he is describing with the triviality of his additions. Thus, instead of a serious criticism what we get is an unsure comment on the situation ending in parody. The indeterminacy in the poem is the result of the multiple possibilities that memory presents.

A River

In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women’s hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.

Alain Badiou’s 15 Theses on Contemporary Art

Any thoughts?
Alain Badiou

15 Theses on Art
Published 2004

I think the great question about contemporary art is how not to be Romantic. It’s the great question and a very difficult one. More precisely, the question is how not to be a formalist-Romantic. Something like a mixture between Romanticism and formalism. On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms. But, on the other side, is obsession with the body, with finitude, sex, cruelty, death. The contradiction of the tension between the obsession of new forms and the obsession of finitude, body, cruelty, suffering and death is something like a synthesis between formalism and Romanticism and it is the dominant current in contemporary art. All the 15 theses have as a sort of goal, the question how not to be formalist-Romantic. That is, in my opinion, the question of contemporary art.

1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.

2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.

3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible as sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into a happening of the Idea.

4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalizing this plurality.

5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.

6. The subject of an artistic truth is the set of the works which compose it.

7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which, in our own contemporary artistic context, is a generic totality.

8. The real of art is ideal impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the secondary formalization of the advent of a hitherto formless form.

9. The only maxim of contemporary art is not to be imperial. This also means: it does not have to be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.

10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense: it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalizes this gesture of abstraction.

11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non-imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic: Alone, it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.

12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.

13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn’t exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art : the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn’t exist.

14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.

15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.

SAGE free access


SAGE has announced its annual free access period. If you have registered you can access all SAGE journals till 15 October 2010. If you havent registered, you can register now and access the journals. You can read full articles online or download pdf files. Access to such prestigious journals as Journal of Commonwealth Lit, Journal of Consumer Culture, Theory Culture, Memory Studies, etc etc.

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Questioning the Conceptual Validity of Nativism


Among the literary critics in India are some who feel that the quiet acceptance of the Euro-American critical models in literary criticism in India is a problem. They insist on developing native models of literary criticism.  This school of thought is less pronounced these days though some years ago it was in circulation more prominently. I am unsure of the conceptual validity of this school of criticism. My article on the issue “Violated Spaces: Questioning the Conceptual Validity of Nativism”  was recently published in The Atlantic Literary Review, January-March 2009 issue. Below is an extract of the article.

What is nativism? It is a bad question. Because before completing itself as a question, it takes on the shape of answers. These become visible if we attend to its parts: the first part ‘what’ is already imposing a structure to the possible answers as ones that offer an essence, an identity as against, say, a time, a space or a mode. The second item ‘is’ presupposes singularity, presence, not something past, yet complete, total and definite. Contrast it with ‘are’, ‘may be’. The third item is a name, indicating an already formed entity, the ‘ism’ suggesting its reaches as a model and programme of action. The symbol item ‘?’ asserting it to be a question despite the answers already posited, presenting the sentence as a seeker of answers but that are within the structure of the question itself. There is yet another item which is unstaged in the sentence: that is the asker, the seeker who may also be the provider, the one structuring the answers. Thus the question is an act – a performance, an action in time/space, a pretence and in its insistence on structuring, a law. Some of the difficulties alluded above are implicit also in the conceptual field bearing the name ‘nativism’.

Why should we talk about nativism? I consider this concept a major departure from the imperial and brahminic paradigms of cultural criticism in India. In sentiment, nativism is both anti-imperialist and anti-brahminical. But practically, in some of its manifestations I am here considering, it is neither entirely free of the structures of thought that are entangled in imperialist or brahminic discourses, nor does it have the potential to be a pan-Indian theory in literary and cultural criticism. While the conceptual terrain of nativism makes the claim for a native theory of being, of cultural self, the very condition of the proposition and its field of operation are violated by the simultaneity of the singularity of self and the extensive plurality of everyday life. In this sense, the hope that nativist thinkers entertain, of inhabiting an uncontaminated homogenous space, is always already violated. This paper is concerned not so much with the merits of nativism, whatever those might be, as the problems with the concept.

The journal is published by the Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi.

Embedded Imagination and Otherness in Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence


Intersections is a journal maintained by Australian National University’s Gender Relations Centre. The current issue is a special issue on “Face)t)s of Woman: Gender in the Indian Cultural Context” guest edited by Subhash Chandra. The journal’s editor is Carolyn Brewer.  It has several interesting articles including those by Joya John, Malashri Lal, Chaitya Das etc. Access to the journal is free. My article on Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence appears in the issue. Below is the basic argument I make in the paper. Here is the link. Do visit.

Shashi Deshpande’s novel That Long Silence, through details of everyday practices, routine, mundane, and particular stories, engages with issues of collective identity. The novel explores how images of nation are embedded in the ordinariness of lives and how the nation-state through an affective mechanism of individuals’ imagination institutes them as citizen-subjects. Through this exploration the novel develops a critique of the patriarchal construction of ‘nation’ and contests the legitimisation of the male discourse as the ‘normative’ national discourse. I wish to argue in this paper that the equalised terrain of the victimisation of women that the novel presents glosses over the cultural marks of the women characters represented in the novel leading to the appropriation of the cultural other into a universalised brahminical ‘woman.’ This critique is further supported by calling attention to the way there is a belittling of female discourse in the novel.

Links to good books from India


I wish to share some links here. These are publications that are off beat hence it is likely that books published by these publishers are not easily found. While Flipkart and other such online stores have the titles, good old book shops are not likely to keep too many of the titles brought out by these publishers. But they publish some of the best work being done in India.You can find a lot of well researched books with honest scholarship. The range of books published covers virtually all fields of contemporary scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. Some of the best translations of books from Indian languages into English are available with these publishers, esp Seagull. Film scripts, plays, diaries, autobiographies, anthropology, cultural studies, fiction… list goes on. You can order books online or browse the catalogue. Happy hunting…

Please recommend links to your favorite  publishers. navayana














The collective distributing set up some of the leftist publishers have:


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