National Seminar on “Theory and Its Pedagogical Implications”

28-29 March 14

The IIS University , Jaipur  

The Department of English of The IIS University, Jaipur, in collaboration with the Forum on Contemporary Theory, Baroda , organized a two-day National Seminar on Theory and its Pedagogical Implications. The Seminar began with the Inaugural Session chaired by Dr. Ashok Gupta, Vice Chancellor, The IIS University.  

The Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ashok Gupta welcomed the eminent guests, members and participants. Tracing the journey of the International College for Girls (ICG), Dr. Gupta said the college was accredited A+ by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council of the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2005, was conferred the status of a Model college by the State Government and has since grown into a Deemed to be a University. Explaining the relevance of the Seminar, he said it would explore the multifaceted dimension of theory and open up understanding of the same. Professor Lajwanti Chatani, Convener, FCT, Baroda , thanked The IIS University for its collaboration with the Forum on Contemporary Theory, Baroda stating that this Seminar is one in a series of four seminars to be held across the country as part of the Forum’s Silver Jubilee celebrations.  

Prof. N.K. Jain, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The IIS University, greeted the eminent guests and members presented the aims and objectives of the seminar. He defined theory and traced its importance and how it is an important way of interpreting literary texts. He further outlined the opportunities and challenges faced by teachers in teaching theory and hoped that the seminar would open up multiple dimensions and solutions to the above said challenges.  

Prof. D. Venkat Rao, EFL University , Hyderabad , presented the keynote address about teaching and research in the Indian context in the area of critical humanities. Humanities concerns itself with human thought, reflection, creation and action. The Humanities emerge where the human as such gets configured, where the human is the object and subject of reflection and representation. He emphasized the notion of  learning to unlearn. Prof. Rao further discussed the postcolonial equation, as to what or how should we be teaching and researching? Whom are we teaching? What is the basis and orientation of our higher education? And how do we configure this “me” without an alibi? He raised the question: does English Literature reflect the Indian consciousness? He further talked about the configurations of location, the bigger challenges like the pharmacia of the Indian classroom, sign forces of culture, modes of inheritance, memo cultures, critical paranoia, etc.  

Session I

The Chairperson for session I was Prof. K.C. Baral, Director, EFL University , Shillong Campus. The guest speaker at the session was Prof. Jasbir Jain, Honorary Director, IRIS, Jaipur, whose talk was titled: “Between Borrowed Frames and Reading Glasses: The Text in the Classroom.” The paper discussed three issues:  first, the state of theory in India and Indian scholarship, the challenges it offers and how and when we crossed from Eliot’s “Tradition and Individual Talent” to the advent of contemporary theory, learning to distinguish theory from literary theory and critical theory? Second, is it possible to read the literature of ‘damaged lives (Adorno)’ without critical theory and the validity or otherwise of applying it to literatures of an earlier period. Is theory culture bound or does it travel? Third, the process of opening out or untying the text in the classroom, and the application of theoretical concepts as reflected in pedagogical situations. The next speaker was Dr. Manish Vyas, Gandhinagar ( Gujarat ) who spoke about the “Scope and Functions of Theory in Literature Classroom.” He said that before the 1960s, literature and literary theories were thought to be belonging to different genres but in the last thirty years or so, literary theory has become important. His paper attempted to analyze the need and importance of literary theory in literature classes, and explore the ways in which the theories have started affecting our experiences and understanding, as teachers and readers. His presentation was followed by Ritu Sen’s (The IIS University) who spoke on “Theory and Pulp Text in the Classroom,” where she presented a case study of the popular Bollywood film, Rang De Basanti (2006) and explored the theory of postcolonialism from a pedagogical perspective. Next, Dr. Khalane Anand Arjun from Nashik ( Maharashtra ) expressed his views on “Theory and its Pedagogy in the Indian Context.” The paper discussed the place of literary theory in the curriculum, practical classroom situations faced by teachers and students in teaching/learning theory respectively and the nature and functions of theory. To add to the discussion Dr. Rimika Singhvi from The IIS University, expressed her views on “From Closed Conversations to Active Dialogue: Using Theory in the Literature Classroom.” This paper was an attempt to discuss the role of contemporary critical theories in the literature class. It proposed two important questions: first, should literary theory be taught at all in today’s post-theory society? Second, when everything is prone to change; can text have an identifiable meaning? The last presentation of the session was by Dr. Piyush Raval, Anand ( Gujarat ) who spoke on the “Pedagogical Relevance of Adorno’s Theory of Art and Literature.” The paper was divided into three sections: first, a brief introduction to Adorno’s intellectual position in and contribution to critical theory; second, a discussion of Adorno’s philosophy of art; and third, the pedagogical relevance of Adorno’s views on art and literature, human life and on the vocation of philosophy in the contemporary world.   

Session II

The second session was chaired by Prof. Sudha Rai, formerly Head and Dean, University of Rajasthan , Jaipur. The guest speaker at the session was Prof. Anil Raina from Panjab University , Chandigarh , who spoke on “Theory and the English Literature Curriculum in Indian Universities.” His paper argued that literary theory is more than mere approaches to literature and, in a literature classroom, should not take us away from the text; rather, it should help us clarify our unexamined notions/assumptions about what ‘reading’ a text implies. Theory can play an important part in English literature classrooms once there is some sort of consensus on the objectives of teaching literature, more especially English literature, to our students. Till that time it is for the individual teacher to find his/her own way of exploring the pedagogical value of theory.  

The next speaker for the session was Suman Yadav, Banasthali (Rajasthan) who spoke on “The Theory of Black Feminism and its Pedagogical Implications in Alice Walker’s The Diary of an African Nun.” Following it was Dr. Manjula Arora from S.S. Jain Subodh PG College, Jaipur, who presented a detailed analysis on “Theory and its Pedagogical Implications in China Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The paper incorporated the Postcolonial theory to offer an analysis of the above said novel by drawing attention to issues like the rich native culture, conflict and the power of imperialism. The next speaker of the session was Tripti Soni from University of Rajasthan , Jaipur who spoke on “Breaking the Myths of Venture and Discovering Pedagogic Insights: A Comprehensive Study of Alice Walker’s Everyday Use, with Multiple Interpretations.” Her paper concluded that several interpretations do not mislead the readers but help them understand literary text in a more nuanced way and enhances intellectual analysis.  

Session III  

The Chairperson for the third session was Prof. Lajwati Chaitani from M.S. University, Vadodara and the guest speaker was Prof. K.C. Baral, EFL University, Shillong, who enlightened the participants by his views on “Critical Theory and Pedagogy : Teaching of Humanities Today.” This paper raised pertinent questions as to how can the teaching of Humanities be strengthened for the benefit of learners and how can critical theory work as an empowering possibility in pedagogic practice. He problematised the issues concerning humanities’ education in India and existing pedagogical practices in order to find out whether or not critical theory could be of help in enhancing the knowledge quotient of students. The second speaker was Dr. Anirudh Deshpade from Delhi University , Delhi , who expressed his views on “The Nation in Indian Historical Consciousness: Colonized Pedagogy and the need for a Humanist Critical History.” The aim of the paper was to interrogate and deconstruct the making of historical knowledge in India with reference to the context outlined above. It advocated the cause of subversive ‘micro’ histories in the Indian sub-continent against the ‘macro’ narratives which comprise the oppressive pedagogy internalized by Indians through the tropes of linguistic and visual narratives brought to bear subconsciously and consciously on their lives by their oppressors. The next speaker, Sucharita Sharma from The IIS University, presented a study on “A Psychoanalytic Approach to Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire.” Next, Priyanka Ruth Prim (The IIS University) talked about the “Submissive Nature of Indian English Literature.” Through her paper, she examined how neither the word, nor the text, but the submissive nature becomes the operational ‘unit’ of translation. Thus, Postcolonial studies and translation studies allow us to understand the psyche behind the authors of Indian English texts. For this purpose, she focussed on a few selected woks of Kamala Markandaya and Manohar Malgonkar. Next was Ronak Batra from Delhi University who shared his perception on “Identity and Intent: Indelible Impact on Human Subconscious as a Response to Major Theoretical Treatises.”

Session IV

Session IV focussed on the theme of ‘Theory and the Novel’ and Prof. Anil Raina from Panjab University , Chandigarh took over the proceedings as the Chairperson. The guest speaker at the session was Prof. Sambudha Sen from Delhi University who explained the concept of the ‘chronotrope’ through his paper titled “The Novel and the Bakhtinian ‘Chronotrope’”.  The essay under consideration was Mikhail Bakhtin’s long essay, “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel” that opened up a range of insights when deployed as a mode of analyzing novels. The second speaker, Dr. Yashodha Verma, Manipal university, Jaipur Campus, expressed herself through the paper “The Quest for Identity: A Psychoanalytical Approach”. This paper aimed to focus on identity in terms of the psychoanalytic approach to identify aspirations with reference to the novel The Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The third speaker for the session was Titeeksha Pathania (The IIS University) who spoke about postmodernity in the pedagogical context through her paper “A Post-Modernist Reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” Next, Surabhi Mathur from Banasthali Vidyapeeth, Tonk (Rajasthan) spoke about “Sentimentalism in the Character of Dominique Franon in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.” The paper applied the theory of sentimentalism on Dominique, the protagonist of the novel. The second last speaker for the day was Sayan Dey from BHU, Varanasi , who presented a paper on “Re-contextualizing Mikhail Bakhtin’s Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics through Classroom Teaching: Re-presentation of Monoligical/Dialogical Conflicts in Student-Teacher Communication.” This paper focused on Bakhtin’s theory of monolgy and dialogy by re-contextualizing it in the classroom scenario. The last paper presenter for the day was Sayar Singh Chopra from Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, who read a paper on “Ecocriticism in Contemporary Indian English Fiction,” co-authored by D.K. Gora.        

The day ended with a gala cultural event put together by the students of the University which included folk and contemporary dances, songs and a fashion fiesta.

Day 2:

The Second day started with the fifth session of the Seminar, on the broad theme of ‘Feminist Literary Theory’, chaired by Prof. Jasbir Jain. Opening the session, the invited speaker for this session, Prof. Anita Singh, BHU, Varanasi, presented a paper on “Doing Feminism through Stories They Tell: Postmodern Feminist Performance, Practice and Pedagogies of Change.” Debating on feminism in theatre, Prof. Singh spoke at length about the presence, absence and invisibility of women in theatre. Asking her audience about what the right mode should be for a feminist play, she went on to point out that that the center of the theatre is the male subject, while the female is an objectivized other. Her paper challenged the dominant historiography and closed with universalizing the strength of women. Following the invited speaker’s presentation were four paper presentations beginning with Dr. Swapna Chandra’s (The IIS University) paper on “A Feminist Construal of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.” She discussed the political voices of women, the likelihood of their being recorded in literature or not and how women, who were deemed furious or in any way displayed more passion in their behaviour than was ‘proper’, were hidden from the public gaze. Risha Kalra’s (The IIS University) paper titled “Looking at Feminism through Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar,” gave an insight into how women were judged on the scale of marriage. Marriage gave the woman an identity and a place in society. The bell jar was identified as a symbol, a symbolic space for the madness of a woman caught in the conflict between her passionate self and her inner peace. She also gave her views on the possible ways such literature could make pedagogical inroads in classroom teaching.

Rajlakshmi Ghosh from Jadhavpur University , Kolkata, presented her paper next on “Interrogating Knowledge Production: A Feminist Intervention.” In her paper, she discussed knowledge production and how feminist intervention could help in the study and teaching of social sciences. In a space where the intellectual paradigm is equal to the masculine one, showing masculine domination in knowledge areas, she called for a knowledge difference without hierarchy emphasizing that each difference has its own specificity. Insisting that women can only imitate men as they do not have their own space, she asked if there is any intellectual region not defined by masculinity. The final paper of the session was presented by Dr. Neeti Mahajan on “Ecofeminism in Anita Desai’s Fire on the Mountain and Fasting, Feasting: Theory, Interpretation and Pedagogy.” She explored the text Fire on the Mountain, pointing out the connection between Desai’s women characters and nature. Calling for a return to the virtues of nurture, (softness, gentleness: traits that also exemplify women), she stated that Ecofeminism is both a liberating and confining field. While it gives women a holistic sense of self, it - as a traditional connection - also confines them to a single, male-dominated space.

The sixth session of the seminar, on the broad theme ‘Feminism – The Indian Context’, was chaired by Prof. Anita Singh. The proceedings began with Prof. Manpreet Kaur Kang from G.G.S. I.P. Univ., New Delhi , who presented a paper on “Feminist Theory: Pedagogical Concerns in India .” Professor Kang spoke on the purpose of literary courses and teaching, stating that teaching practices are grounded in feminist theory. She emphasized a need for gender norms and an equal space in society and in classroom teaching instead of feminism being used only as a political agenda. Empowerment is possible only through democracy and social change. But this is only possible in the lower sections of society, which demand a change in their state. Intersections of caste and class result in the abuse of the female body. But upper class women, who are comfortable in their middle class space and protected status, espousing a Western standpoint, are not so eager to cause or embrace change, being hesitant about what this could mean for their own position in society. The first paper presented was by Dr. Divya Walia on “Pedagogical Significance of Mahesh Dattani’s Tara , in the Light of Feminism.” She spoke from personal experience of the power differential present not only in Tara but also in society. Within the parochial logic of patriarchy, and the cultural distinction attributed to each gender, He is the Subject, around which discourse revolves, while She is the Other, identified only in relation to the Subject. Thus, gender itself becomes a subject in a system of systematic discrimination. Ranjit Kaur’s (St. Xavier’s College, Jaipur) paper on “Reconstructing Feminine Sensibility in Anita Nair’s Ladies’ Coupe” focussed on the representation of women in the external and internal world of culture and self respectively. She asked whether it was impossible that a woman could be single and still be happy, without being forced to fall back on marriage as a social crutch to make her space in society and be accepted as the rest. Leena Sharma, speaking on “Existentialism in the character of Dimple in Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis,” presented her views on the Female against the Feminism binary from the point of view of Narcopolis. Making a play on words, she insisted that critical consciousness is not critical theory. She also emphasized that existentialism is the origin of all literary theories, while stating that there is no apt queer theory that would identify the space of the woman/not woman in literature. Thus, she maintained that every student is fighting a conflict in the classroom, due to not having the right tools to examine disparate and hidden identities in the literary and social context.

Pritpal Sidhu presented a paper on “Feminism in Premchand’s Budhi Kaki.” Her main focus was on the problematic of women against women. She spoke on the conflict that women create among themselves, pulling each other down and engaging in behaviour that is detrimental to their own self-image and to the female gender as a whole. The final paper presented in this session was by Niharika Joshi on “Strengthened Voice of a Woman in A. Jayaprabha’s Stares.” She spoke about the woman’s situation in the presence and as the subject of the male gaze. Instead of being cowed down by the male gaze, the woman in the poem returns a stare for a stare, not as an instigation to conflict, but as a means of defending her own existence in the social-cultural sphere. The woman has to deal with the primitive male gaze in a primitive manner to push across the message that she is not just a body, in order to affect male attitudes.

Session VII had ‘Postcolonialism and Literature’ as its theme. It was chaired by Prof. Malati Mathur from IGNOU, Delhi , while the invited talk was given by Prof. Sudha Rai, formerly Head and Dean, University of Rajasthan . Prof. Rai emphasized on life writings that are prose narratives of fiction. She claimed that these ‘marginalized’ forms of writings should be made part of the syllabus as reading post colonial autobiographies would ensure that the reader comes closer to aesthetic and ideological concerns. The paper looked at how the self is narrated and constructed and how can one extract pedagogical resource in the study of autobiographies to better understand the concept of ‘hybridity’. She stated how students could be motivated to go to autobiographies which come from the racial theory that was prominent in the nineteenth century. The paper asked whether theory can be aggravated to provide both hindsight and foresight to these narratives. She talked of the pseudo scientific euogenist theory that would involve a study of YouTube narratives and blogs. These texts are ‘more consciously to be integrated in papers’ with other inspirational narratives of courage. The interrogative concern was whether hybridity is enabling or disabling. The paper submitted how pedagogical opportunities or approaches taken up by us for postcolonial studies are rooted in first culture, second culture and the third culture; how theory not only exists in texts, but can also be applied while writing; and can we separate autofiction and autobiography or ponder over what kind of linguistic hybridity would take place in such writings. The next presenter Smita Sharma (The IIS University) subsequently discussed postcolonial theory and its pedagogical implications in her paper entitled “Theory and Texts: A Symbiosis.” The paper analyzed and compared George Orwell’s Burmese Days, Shooting an Elephant and E.M. Foster’s Passage to India as postcolonial texts. It discussed the binary opposition of ‘self’ and the ‘other’ by understanding resistance narratives through Fanon’s theory in his book Black Skin White Masks. Aditi Bhardwaj in her paper entitled “Avatar, the 21st Century Sci-Fi: A Post-Colonial Study” discussed the theory and its implication in film studies. She discussed Avatar as a film that overturns the colonial project as the colonizer attempts to learn the language and culture of the native. The film rather provides a utopian world where the colonizer willingly submits to the spiritual power and chooses to become one of the natives and this makes the film a good study of the concept of hybridity. Shefali Arora discussed Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown in her paper entitled “The Utopian Dream and its Lateral Inversion in the Mirror Called World.” She looked at the study of the novel from a student’s perspective in the classrooms of foreign universities.

Session VIII had ‘Diverse Approaches’ as the theme. It was chaired by Prof. Sambudha Sen while Prof. Malati Mathur was the invited speaker at the session. Prof. Mathur compared deconstruction to topography studied in mathematics. In her paper titled “Deconstruction in the Classroom,” she emphasized the social, cultural, and political constructions of the text which are often undertaken for consideration in the process of deconstructing a text. She illustrated the process of deconstruction by taking the song “Baagon Mein Bahaar Hai…Humko Tumse Pyar Hai” as a text. She looked at the hierarchical oppositions of the Garden: Building, Spring: Autumn, Buds: Flowers, Yes: No, You: Other, and Love: Hatred. By overturning these hierarchies, the paper made an attempt to understand the subtext of love which is not romantic love, but love as presented in the advertisements of beauty products, automobiles and many other things these days. It focussed on how prioritization of ‘you’ over ‘me’ points towards the ‘urban’ taking over the ‘rural’. The linguistic prominence was illustrated through the reference the lyricist had given of the beauty of nature which also reflected upon the process of centering and decentering the locus. Dr. Shreya Chatterji emphasized the purpose of myth that is either rooted in religion or descends through oral traditions. The paper entitled “Myth Criticism and Retelling of Myths” traced the development of myth criticism with various links that critics have established between myths and literature/science/religion. Myth critics Northrop Frye and I.A. Richards were discussed in the paper to explore the retelling of myths. The paper examined fictitious narratives that reflect how myth criticism has anticipated literature with hybridity brought along in the archetypical constructions given by Frazer. The paper contested that the purpose of myth can be answered in the retelling of myths which further gives birth to a new kind of myth. Dr. L.G. Patil talked about I.A. Richards’ list of ten difficulties while reading and Roland Barthes’ views on the same in his paper titled “Critical Discourse of Intertextuality.” The paper focussed on the challenge that intertextuality puts forth for both teachers and students. He stated how reading Shakespeare only after reading Ernest Jones and forty other critics is difficult for students. While some critics begin with a quotation from other languages like German and French, two questions that hover around the reader’s mind are the source of interpretation and translation and the functional value of the text undertaken to study. The paper suggested an approach of demystifying idea and theory to make the learning process successful. Gaurav Mathur (Jai Narayan Vyas University, Jodhpur) stated that in the present day world, students are technologically ahead of their teachers and this must make teachers think of what can they give to their students with their experience. He characterized the young minds into three categories – disciplined minds, synthesizing minds and creative minds. The paper discussed how various critics have emphasized on the fact that in films, ideas seem to have more effect than they have on paper. It explored film theory utilizing films to teach by discussing Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, Vijay Anand’s Guide, Satyajeet Ray’s Panchali and serials like Discovery of India (Bharat Ek Khoj). The paper suggested that studying films as case studies would provide second value to cinema, which is privileged in contemporary times. Aashna Singh’s paper entitled “The Game of Thrones and Queer Theory” discussed the marginalization of texts - that belong to queer theory - in classrooms. The paper discussed The Game of Thrones and inquired if sex education was provided in all educational institutions. The paper suggested that if all students from all subjects like engineering are introduced to queer theory, it would broaden their perspectives and would also make them sensitive in their approach towards an attempt at understanding life.

The Seminar was an effectual discussion platform for the exchange, exploration and discussion of diverse issues about literary theory. The proceedings concluded with a valedictory ceremony presided over by Prof. N.K. Jain. Dr. Anirudh Deshpande and Dr. Neeti Mahajan shared their experiences during the seminar. Prof. D. Venkat Rao gave the closing address while Dr. Rimika Singhvi delivered the vote of thanks.

Ambika Sharma and Ruchi Sharma
Research Scholars, Dept. of English
The IIS University , Jaipur