Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 17-18 (June 1989) p. 117.

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Third World Literature' and the Nationalist Ideology


The issue of assembling and professionalizing a new area of literature, namely Third World Literature', has arisen primarily in the metropolitan university, which is responding to quite specific kinds of pressures by appropriating particular kinds of texts, and by devising a new kind of discourse within the larger discourse of Literature as such. I shall try to clarify those pressures and to specify the kind of ideology which impels them—and then through them, us—to first speak of a unitary category of Third World Literature' and then to reproduce that very ideology, on an extended scale, in all we think and say about what has been designated already as Third World Literature'. This issue of ideology will take us to the assertion, now fairly common in radical literary circles, that nationalism is the determinate ideological imperative in the era of colonialism and imperialism, and that Third World narratives are essentially allegories of the national experience. This position has been spelled out most coherently and rigorously by Frederic Jameson, but some variant of this position is present—often unconsciously and unwittingly present— in virtually all that gets written on the subject. I might add that I had initially felt reluctant to address these matters in the context of Indian debates precisely because the matter is connected, really, with the context of the metropolitan university and the teaching of Literature in that situation. But so fundamental and even genetic is the relation, indeed the dependence, of the Indian university upon its metropolitan counterpart, that knowledges produced there become immediately effective here, in a relation of dominance, shaping even the way we think of ourselves. Nowhere is this parasitic intellectual dependence of the Indian university upon the metropolitan ones so obvious as in the teaching of English. It is best, therefore, to deal with the matter directly.

4 This is a companion piece, chronologically later and theoretically subordinate, to an earlier text, 'Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the "National Allegory" /, which I had published in Social Text, No. 17, in response to Frederic Jameson's Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capital" (Social Text, No. 15). Composed initially for a Modem History Seminar at Delhi University, then somewhat re-worked for an English Seminar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and now substantially rewritten for publication, this text has been designed, in all its versions, to spell out some of the presuppositions and dispel some of the silences which had remained unspecified previously. What follows, then, is in the nature of a clarification and presupposes those earlier formulations.

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