Thursday, May 06, 2010

From an old article by Pankaj Mishra

He first discusses the role of literature, in partucular prose fiction Little Inkling
"This is the truest function of a national literature: it holds up a mirror in whose unfamiliar reflections a nation slowly learns to recognise itself. The writer, exercising his talent and imagination, discovers new subjects, or deepens old discoveries; and he himself grows in the process. In Chekhov's late fiction, you find a highly developed sense of the complex world he has been writing about: he has finally come to grips with his subject; and in the last long stories, he describes what is in many ways a makeshift colonial society like ours, adrift after a century of half-hearted modernisation, full of formless or divided individuals at odds with their environment, whose deepest desires, dissatisfactions, frustrations, rages and resentments have their source in some power external to their lives.
It is a steadily accumulating literature that creates a nation's self-awareness. In our own case, this self-awareness has been conflated with national identity and maintained rather precariously after the independence movement by military or cricket victories, nuclear bombs, beauty queens, fashion designers, software tycoons or the lone Booker or Nobel prize-winner. Much more than poetry, it is prose fiction with its awareness and concern about the individual and society that brings about a larger sense of an interlinked community-something impoverished and fragmented countries like India and Russia particularly lack. It could be said that few people had really noticed the wretched condition of the serfs until Turgenev wrote about them in A Sportsman's Sketches, which not only established Turgenev's career but also went on to influence the Tsar's decision to abolish serfdom."
He then goes on to discuss Indian writing in English "Writing has become yet another technical skill to be acquired from the West in the private pursuit of social and financial glory." Possibly the same can be said of much academic work.
( via a comment in Chapati Mystery)

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