Different literary and cultural theories that we have embraced so far have presented a diverse prism of reading, understanding and interpreting literary texts and their inherent world views. There are divergent views among scholars and critics about the way a reader understands the text within a given context of the environment depicted by a particular text and invariably create his or her own perspective that forms an afterlife of the texts. These theories and approaches have enabled readers and authors to recreate their own contexts and gradually navigate them into the centre of mainstream literary discourse that generally tends to ignore those voices from the periphery. The voices from the periphery in Indian literary environment are those coming from the social, economic and even geographical margins that includes inter alia the writings from translingual, minority, Dalit writers as well as writers from remote areas like the Northeast. These writers form a periphery which has been termed as 'Subaltern’ by Antonio Gramsci and highlight an ongoing endeavour to portray a different ‘context’ or world view that can be understood and adequately interpreted from the author’s own social, cultural and political milieu. Such writings, though limited in number and scarce in our critical literary landscape, nevertheless underline an alternative mode of consciousness that emerges from caste, community, spatial existence and economic marginalization. It also depicts a subtle ongoing struggle of the writings from the ‘margin’ to move towards the ‘centre’. The writings from the periphery, therefore, are a case of assertion of identity, culture and social reality that is ‘different’ from the mainstream and a protest against any literary hegemony of the mainstream. Thus a translingual writer (Na’Asomia) with East Bengal origin in Assam writing in Assamese or a poet from the Ao Naga community all raise questions about those real and imaginary margins enforced and try to strike back by using their texts as a platform of resistance. Ironically, the centrality of the ‘margin’ in their texts sometimes may be seen as an appropriation of the margin, its literary/artistic practices as well as the further marginal position of gender and sexuality.
Literary texts and other forms of cultural expression that were seen as marginal or lying in the periphery during the first half of the twentieth century by scholars like Bourdieu and Even-Zohar are gaining new momentum in recent years. Several factors facilitated this movement that includes commercialisation of cultural symbols, democratic access to literary spaces through the advent of new platforms like the Internet and the social media. Bourdieu regards language as a mechanism of power assertion highlighting the writer’s relational position in a social context. Distinct use of language and cultural symbols, metaphors and special registers
comes from particular contexts and militates against the reader’s own positions about the text and its meaning. Linguistic interactions and literary interpretations are therefore parts of the readers own contextual positions in the broader mainstream social space and parameters of understanding. Depending on the contexts of the reader, the writer’s voice is thus understood and interpreted. In recent years Even-Zohar stressed on the problems of majority and minority, and centre and periphery in the context of wealth, power and control of resources. His "polysystem theory" focuses on relations between literature and language that reflects a complex analysis of socio-cultural systems. In understanding the writings from the periphery these socio-cultural systems may play a vital role in redefining our approach to literature from the margins.
Globalisation and the emergence of technology-led information society have also impacted the forms and contents of art and culture in contemporary world. However, there are some distinct trends of writing that thrives on being different, driving home the idea that every country, and every local community with different cultures and histories and tries to create a ‘space’ away from the mainstream (called ‘subaltern' by Antonio Gramsci). The present seminar attains significance in bring to the forefront different perspectives of such writings from two specific contexts - language (translingual), society and location (tribal communities of the Northeast). The seminar not only makes a case for examining literature with a pre-existing, pre-compiled traditional literary history but also examine them critically from the point of view of the caste, class, the minority, the marginal and the quintessential ‘subaltern’. There this seminar will be a fresh academic exercise that will produce new insights into the study of literary texts from a diverse set of theoretical and analytical frameworks.
Against this backdrop a two-day national seminar is being organised at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla on 6-7 May, 2019 to discuss the implications of contemporary critical approaches to literature with respect to the idea of periphery and margin. The major objectives of the conference will be:
(a) To help bring forth a fresh understanding of the writings of authors from Northeast India specially focussing on two categories: (i) Translingual Societies and (iii) Tribal societies of Northeast Region.
(b) To examine the new and emerging approaches of literary criticism that were until recently deemed marginal from the perspective of the traditional cultural-linguistic centres, such as mainstream English, Hindi and other regional literatures in India.
(c) To discuss the ways in which literature from the margins repositions itself with regard to contemporary technological and social developments.
(d) To explore how literature from the peripheries reacts to the new world of digital platforms like blogs, e-Magazines, social media groups and how they negotiate with the new platforms whether through an integration with other modes of cultural expression or by generating new genres.
(e) To provide an interdisciplinary platform for writers, researchers, academics, theorists and professionals to deliberate upon the trends, issues and methodologies under various sub-themes.
The seminar will focus on the following thematic areas: This abstract should foreground a problematic and provoke a discussion around the land questions outlined earlier.
a. Literature from Northeast India
b. Revisiting the Subaltern – ‘Indian literature’ from the periphery
c. Critical approaches to the literature from the periphery
d. Contextualising our understanding of ‘marginal’ experiences
e. Cultural expressions in the writings from the periphery
f. Literature as a socio-political expression of disadvantaged communities
g. Methodological concerns and research ethics in literary criticism
h. Meanings of peripheral voice in
A limited number of participants will be invited for the Seminar. Those interested in participating should send (preferably by email) an abstract (500-700 words) of the proposed paper along with their brief C.V. (of around 200 words) to:
The last date for submission of abstract (500-700 words) is 17th March 2019. The Institute intends to send Invitation letters to selected participants by 1 April, 2019. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the papers not proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Hence, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers (English or Hindi), hitherto unpublished and original, with citations in place, along with a reference section, to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla– 171005 by 30th April, 2019. IIAS, Shimla will be glad to extend its hospitality during the seminar period and is willing to reimburse, if required, rail or air travel expenses from the place of current residence in India, or the port of arrival in India, and back.
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