Friday, August 22, 2008

Darwin to the Rescue

A group of scholars thinks evolutionary science can reinvigorate literary studies


In the face of any looming apocalypse, imagined or not, prophets abound. For the literary academy, which has been imagining its own demise for almost as long as it has been around, prophets seem always to look to science, with its soothing specificity and concreteness. As the modern discipline of literary criticism was forming in the early 20th century, scholars concentrated their efforts on philology, a study that was thought to be more systematic than pure literary analysis. When the New Critics made their debut in the 1920s and 30s, their goal was to give a quasi-scientific rigor to literary theory: to lay out in detail the formal attributes of a "good poem" and provide guidance as to how exactly one discovered them. Later the Canadian critic Northrop Frye, in his 1957 Anatomy of Criticism, famously queried: "What if criticism is a science as well as an art?" And some of the poststructuralist thought that began to filter into America from France in the 1960s took as its bedrock linguistic and psychoanalytic theory.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Melbourne announced as City of Literature by United Nations

Patrick Horan

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has also added Melbourne to its Creative Cities Network.

Melbourne joins Edinburgh as a City of Literature and now sits alongside other cities in the network including Berlin, Buenos Aires and Montreal as Cities of Design and Bologna and Seville as Cities of Music.

Arts Minister Lynne Kosky said the award recognised and celebrated Melbourne’s rich literary culture, history and creative talent.

... ... ... ... ...

Booker Prize-winning Victorian writer Peter Carey lent his support to Melbourne’s bid and the city’s literary credentials.

“I can think of no other Australian city where the pleasures of reading and discussion are so passionately pursued,” Mr Carey said.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Re-Markings : The Journal of English Letters

is a biannual journal of English Letters. The journal aims at providing a healthy forum for scholarly and authoritative views on broad cultural issues of human import as evidenced in literature, art, television, cinema and journalism. Special Numbers/Sections devoted to events, issues and personalities are a regular feature of Re-Markings. Launched in March 2002 Re-Markings is in its seventh year of publication in 2008. In this short span the journal has made its presence felt emphatically in literary and academic circles with appreciative comments coming from senior academicians, statesmen and writers in India and abroad. Charles Johnson, the most persuasive voice in Afro-American writing today, responded to Re-Markings thus: “I've now read (twice) this issue's (March 2004) introduction, and looked over the material included on poet David Ray. All in all, with its impressive global range and vision, and especially the international writers included, this issue is magnificent, critically and creatively. Congratulations! There is really nothing quite like this fine publication in America--every issue is to be treasured”-- Charles Johnson, Winner of National Book Award, USA., and author of Middle Passage, Dreamer, Soul-Catcher and other Stories,

The following comment is by Professor Jonathan Little, Chairman, Department of English, Alverno College, Milwaukee, WI, U.S.A.: “I finally received Re-Markings and read it through. I was very impressed by the range of the articles and the issues they covered, including Nietzsche and Mukherjee, for example. The articles were clear and to the point. I also liked the prose-poem you included. Very good idea to include some creative work! I wish more academic journals would do that. I'm honored to have my writing included in it.”

Prof M.L. Raina, Distinguished Scholar & Former Head, Dept. of English, Panjab University, Chandigarh: “Just a word to say that you are doing a very good job with Re-Markings. The journal carries promising articles and has a variety that is not to be found in the Indian journals that come my way. I hope it is around for a long time.”

For details regarding Subscription/Contribution contact Dr. Nibir K Ghosh, Chief Editor, at or 919897062958

Chief Editor : Nibir K. Ghosh
Editor: A. Karunaker
Associate Editor: Katy Howe
Executive Editor : Sundeep Arora
Advisory Board: Dr. Charles Johnson, Jayanta Mahapatra, Dr. Amritjit Singh, Dr. Ruediger Kunow, Dr. S. Ramaswamy, Dr. Jonah Raskin & Dr. C.R. Visveswara Rao

Re-Markings ISSN 0972-611X
68 New Idgah Colony, Agra-282001, U.P. (INDIA).
Tel: (0562) –2420330; 2420116; E-mail :

Monday, August 18, 2008

Slavoj Zizek, professor and writer

Interview by Rosanna Greenstreet

From The Guardian.

Slavoj Zizek, 59, was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He is a professor at the European Graduate School, international director of the Birkbeck Institute for Humanities in London and a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana's institute of sociology. He has written more than 30 books on subjects as diverse as Hitchcock, Lenin and 9/11, and also presented the TV series The Pervert's Guide To Cinema.

When were you happiest?

A few times when I looked forward to a happy moment or remembered it - never when it was happening.

What is your greatest fear?

To awaken after death - that's why I want to be burned immediately.
... ... ... ...

Aside from a property, what's the most expensive thing you've bought?

The new German edition of the collected works of Hegel.

What is your most treasured possession?

See the previous answer.

What makes you depressed?

Seeing stupid people happy.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

That it makes me appear the way I really am.

Read the full interview here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rise up, you middle class, against a culture of illiteracy and vulgarity

Xolela Mangcu

And our experience with Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe has demonstrated that intellectuals can also lead their people to extinction.

The question is whether a member of the Nkandla middle classes, Jacob Zuma, can preside over the re-emergence of a middle-class culture in keeping with our oldest and most cherished values — education, faith and temperance.

Read here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish's final journey

Fitting farewell to Palestinian poet

By Heather Sharp

From a formal honour guard in the presidential compound to a jostling crowd around a hillside gravesite, Mahmoud Darwish's final journey reflected his place in the emotions of Palestinians.

His poetry on the Palestinian identity earned him a Palestinian Authority-sponsored funeral with a fanfare second only to late leader Yasser Arafat's.

But with youths in jeans and sunglasses and security guards sharing emotional hugs, among the thousands who turned out to pay their respects, the massive popular following of his simple, evocative writing was evident.

Read here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dwelling in Possibilities


This hunger for life has a number of consequences, for now and for the future. It's part of what makes this student generation appealing, highly promising — and also radically vulnerable. These students may go on to do great and good things, but they also present dangers to themselves and to the common future. They seem almost to have been created, as the poet says, "half to rise and half to fall." As a teacher of theirs (and fellow citizen), I'm more than a little concerned about which it's going to be.

Read here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

1857 : Looking for Things Misplaced

By Asad Zaidi

Translated from Hindi ('1857 : Saman Ki Talash')

by Rajesh Kumar Sharma

(This draft is being put online for the purpose of attracting comments and suggestions. The readers can read the original poem, written in Hindi, at

The battles of 1857

that once upon a time

were far-off battles

are here and now.

In these times of shame

and of a sense of wrong

when every wrong

oppresses you as your own doing,

the ears catch

the rumble of war-drums

of the mutiny

and also the hubbub

that is so, so Indian

and the whispering

of frightened pimps and traitors

and the restive footfalls

of chance-mongers.

This could just be an effect

of fiction

and of commercial cinema



But this is certainly not the clamour

of those

150 crore rupees

which the Government of India

has sanctioned to celebrate

the 150th anniversary

of the First War of Independence,


with the pen of a Prime Minister

who is embarrassed

of every battle for freedom

and goes begging

around the world

for apologies,

a Prime Minister

who would sacrifice


for the national objective

of a better subjugation.

This is the reminder

of a fifty seven


by a national elite,

by Bankims and Amichands and Harishchandras,

and by their offspring

installed in thrones,

who never wanted anything


than a better enslavement.

A fifty seven

for which there was nothing

but contempt

or reticence

in the minds of Moolshankars,

of Siva Prasads

and Narendranaths

and Ishwar Chandras

and Syed Ahmads

and Pratap Narains

and Maithili Sharans

and Ramchandras.

A fifty seven

that came to be remembered

in the exclusive literature

of Hindi

only by Subhadra

some seventy

or good eighty long years


This is the reminder

of a process

that gets relived now

some 150 years too late

in suicides

of peasants and weavers

whom you cannot even call rioters

or protesters

and who go

their lonely way

-- as food of the national indexes

of development

and starvation --

from Special Economic Zones

towards collective graveyards

and cremation sites

like a melancholy


ungovernable procession.

Who has left them

so terribly


Back in 1857

the common people were probably meant to be

that soiled

and filthy,

fated perhaps

to be so,

with an irrevocability

that no one questioned.


such appearance has become

an extreme crime.

Battles often remain


only to be consummated

in times to come,

in other ages,

with other weapons.

At times it so happens

that the soil-laden corpses too rise

to give battle yet again,

mocking the living

that are deader than themselves.

And they want to know from them

which section of the infantry

or cavalry

they belong to,

which leader they follow.


taking them to be sympathizers,

they happen to tell them

of their destination

that is Najafgarh,

or else

they pause to ask the way

to Bakhtawarpur.

The dead of 1857 speak.

Forget about our feudal leaders,

forget about the jagirs

they fought to repossess,

forget too the way we did die

for their sake.

Tell us something

of yourself.

Is the world now fully delivered

of injustice?

Or is it just

that you are blind,

that you only can’t see

any way out?


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Reading of Asad Zaidi’s Poem ‘1857 : Saman Ki Talash’

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

(This is a revised version of the previous post. It appears along with Hindi translation in the August issue of the bilingual bimonthly journal Pratilipi at

Asad Zaidi’s disturbingly powerful poem opens with a complex telescoping: 1857 has returned, with an immediacy that it did not have in 1857.

The battles that seemed far away are now right here. At the door.

You could put off the fight then. You cannot now.

You could probably say then, “It is for them to take care of freedom.” Now it must be taken care of by you.

Delhi was a long way away then. It is everywhere now. One can think of two Delhis. The symbol of freedom to be won. And the symbol of a kind of power that is a menace to freedom.

There is guilt and a sense of wrong. Can we evade the burden of responsibility for all that has gone wrong? But then a generalized sense of universal responsibility may hide a pathological condition also.

The narrative voice is ambivalent: are ‘we’ the people or the writers, or both?

The soundscape, too, seems to be ambivalent. But in reality it could be marked by a sharp, brewing conflict. For there is the restive, loud, carnivalesque India of people and the whispering India of agents, touts and political opportunists.

But the fears about the conflict could just be illusory, a product of our popular culture. Perhaps the very reality of contemporary India is a product of fiction and commercial cinema. An unreal reality.

But such a suspicion could also mean an ironic shifting of the blame for our sordid reality on to fiction and cinema. A guilt-induced aporia of representation. Our popular cultural representations have probably keenly followed the reality we have produced, but it is such a sordid, fantastical reality that we would just not acknowledge its existence and admit our concomitant responsibility in its making. The better option: blame the popular culture for all that has gone wrong.

The metaphor of noise again changes – to become (before being promptly disowned) the tinkle-tinkle of money. The poem takes aim and fires at a Prime Minister’s magisterial faux pas. And then it returns to telescoping: freedom has become only a name for the quest for a convenient unfreedom. Obviously, this is a pointed assault on the neoliberal avatar of colonialism that conceals itself behind the mask of a freedom won on such and such a date and hence an ‘indisputable empirical fact’.

The rumble – the noise – of the battle-drums of 1857 knocks on the heart, to bring back the memories that the canonical national writing has long kept locked in silence (except for Subhadra Kumari Chauhan who remembered to remember 1857). The writers of the canon may not have exactly aspired for a more convenient slavery, but their taking for granted the freedom arguably made them complicit in the subversion of freedom.

Freedom is not something you download once and for all, and then forget all about it. It must be continually updated and protected.

Freedom is a condition of being.

1857 was not just those people’s case who arose and marched and fought and died then. It remained the case of those too who came afterwards. And it remains the case for us too.

1857 just cannot be ‘othered’, consigned to ‘them’. It must be ‘owned’.

The rumble is a reminder of the history that did not end in 1857 (or for that matter in 1947 either), but that continues to repeat itself even after a century and a half in the suicides of farmers, weavers and others. The worst irony of the history of/as the present is that these people cannot afford even the dignity that history would confer on them if they could be called rioters or protesters. They are like shadow-people, exiled from their lands swallowed up in Special Economic Zones, dragging themselves to an unsung, general death as the fodder of national statistics of development . . . and starvation.

Yes, we have moved on. History more than repeats itself. An unclean, squalid look was, back in 1857, mere destiny. Today it is a grave crime. Destiny is excusable. Crimes are not.

But then there are several other ways in which history may repeat itself. An unfinished battle may be resumed across decades or centuries. Even the dead may rise to fight, albeit with archaic, obsolete weapons. Indeed they must, when the living are deader than themselves.

The dead may have been dead and seemingly asleep, but they have –in the poem’s universe– learnt their lessons. They now know that their leaders may not have always fought for them or their freedom but only for their own feudal properties. Equipped with such dangerous wisdom, they today mockingly ask the ‘enlightened’ living whether they do not fight any longer because there is nothing to fight for and no one to fight against . . . whether injustice has vanished from the world . . . or whether they have just given up.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Blessings for an Engineering Race

By Annie Zaidi

May you not give birth to monsters.
May your children not have the haunches
of a pig.
May your pigs not have horns
from highland cows.
May your salmon be wild
and your prawns unfarmed.
May your goats be purebred
and your cotton, white gold.
May you bloom and grow
bloom and grow
and may you know
when to stop

Courtesy: Pratilipi

Read more poems by Annie Zaidi here.

When Lit-Crit Mattered


It may be hard to imagine -- given our current obsessions with television shows, movies, instant-messaging, Facebook and blogs -- but literature was once at the center of American cultural life. In the middle of the 20th century, novels and poems, of varying quality and aspiration, were widely read and widely talked about. And literary merit was discussed and hotly debated by critics whose essays, in Garrick Davis's words, "courted the educated public with their elegant prose."

Read the full article here