Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 25-26 (Dec 1993) p. 139.


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Whose Culture is it? Contesting the Modern

D Tejaswini Niranjana

The activity of judging or evaluating has been a foundational impulse of literary criticism as it has taken shape as an academic discipline. Focussing on the literary debates in Kamataka, this paper argues that the evolution of the criticism of literature in the last hundred years is tied to the emergence in Kamataka of the 'modem' (used here as a shorthand for global processes such as industrialization, the expansion of colonialism, the creation of democracy, of post-colonial nation-states, the growth of mass communication, the rise of mass social movements; and also for the many fine-grained processes of the transformation of everyday life, such as, for instance, the creation of new subjectivities). To trace the historical complexity of literary evaluation' as a conceptual formation, then, is to sketch one possible genealogy of the constitution of Kannada modernity itself.

I call my investigation a genealogy and not a history, arguing with Michel Foucault that the 'search for descent is not the erecting of foundations: on the contrary, it disturbs what was previously considered immobile; it fragments what was thought unified; it shows the heterogeneity of what was imagined consistent with itself (Foucault 1977: 147). I shall use the word modernity to mean, then, not the natural opposite of some monolithic and unchanging entity called tradition, but a conflicted, constantly reconfigured process which re-allocates 'distinction'.

After the introduction of English education in India in the nineteenth century, at least going by the experience of southern India, any socially powerful group (upper caste and upper class) in British or in Princely India was marked by its study of English Literature, and of the critical texts which provided a whole new vocabulary of judgement and appreciation. This vocabulary, I shall argue, was not simply imported into the Kannada context; rather, it was redeployed and inflected in such a way as to reinforce or elaborate urgent contemporary concerns.

Numbers 25-26


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