studies in bhasa literature

Since the late 1980s Forum on Contemporary Theory (FCT) is deeply engaged in fostering interdisciplinary and critical thinking in the humanities and social sciences in India. As a congregation of scholars and a ‘community of practice’, it views ‘theory’ as a necessary resource for both disrupting as well as re-constructing the established practices of academic learning.

FCT wishes to expand its work to include a meditation on India’s Bhasha literature as a source of conceptual thinking and a site for normative deliberations. In the 19th century, as is established by the current literary historiography, Bhasha literature in India acquired a new lease of life, a new quickening, largely through the world of ‘print’ and civic dissemination. It is also true that strong ‘identitarian’ concerns provided Bhasha literature its peculiar bounded-ness, its political moorings, its shifting affiliations, and its strategic erasures.

It is not surprising then that literary and educational institutions and pedagogical protocols kept India’s Bhasha literature tethered to various kinds of ‘identitarian’ and ‘nationalist’ imaginaries. They still do. However, literary production and reception are always in excess of their selective forging and specific instrumentalities. As we aspire to gather and evaluate conceptual resources embedded in Bhasha literature, it is in some sense an effort to unhinge old connections and tetherings. How do we discover or read the conceptual storylines lodged in its various genres? Whether we think of conceptual resources as ‘tools’ or defined landscapes or marked territories or specified horizons, they point towards an approach, an orientation- if not a clear method – towards understanding the layered realities of the world.   

Although theoretically informed, this is not an attempt to forcibly bend Bhasha literature to the logic of philosophy. This is also not an exercise in explicating the mobilization of Indian philosophical thinking in literature. This is primarily about seeing different structures of thinking and evaluating, about enduring human predicaments and affiliations, as articulated in India’s Bhasha literature (including in its epics and puranas). In this we are as much interested in clear articulations, as we are in ‘hints’,’ indications’ and ‘gestures’.  

As we launch this line of work we held an exploratory meeting to discuss ways in which this can be taken forward. The conversation included discussions on both the validity and coherence of FCT’s new line of work and on the nature of our intellectual labor required to build this into a collective and critical practice.

Below are our participants; names listed in aphabetical order.

participants of WORKSHOP

A. R. Venkatachalapathy
A. R. Venkatachalapathy, Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, took his PhD in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has taught at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, the University of Madras and the University of Chicago,
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Badri Narayan
Badri Narayan, a social historian and cultural anthropologist is currently the Director at G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. His interests lie in popular culture, social and anthropological history, Dalit and subaltern issues and the relationship between power and
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