What Filters through the Curtain : Reconsidering Modernism, Travelling Literatures and Little Magazines in a Cold War Context Publishing the Postcolonial : Politics and Economics of Postcolonial Print Cultures

Intervenant : Laetitia Zecchini

Newcastle University, United Kingdom

As several critics (such as Monica Popescu) have started to acknowledge, the story of postcolonial literature – not to mention world literature - is also a Cold War story, and perhaps one of the indispensable (but long neglected) backgrounds against which modernisms in India must be reconsidered. My aim here is to throw light on the ways by which the Cold War also shaped the publishing, critical and literary scene in India in the 50s-70s, with a special focus on Bombay. As the Hindi writer Mohan Rakesh suggested, India in the 60s could well appear as a “chess board … between the United States ideologists and the USSR’s ideologists” (1972), both blocks being engaged in “pressing the fight” (Barnhisel & Turner) and devising or funding an arsenal of “cultural weapons” (journals, book programs, translations, etc.) to promote its image. Because this study is one of the developments of a new project on the PEN - itself part of the same intellectual constellation as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, indirectly funded by the CIA -, I will not focus here on the soviet-sponsored ‘other side’ which is more documented, but on the « free world’s » (and especially American) presence in India.

If as Mulk Raj Anand acknowledged one of the results of the Cold War has been to divide literatures of Asia and Africa (1962), it also brought writers and literatures in sudden contact with each other. Delving into the Cold War context helps to re-examine the “paperback revolution” that Dilip Chitre saw as a defining feature of modern Marathi poetry, as well as the transnational and translational traffics that were taking place at the time ; why certain authors were read, published, and translated in India ; why and how certain texts and little magazines travelled, or why specific literatures (Eastern and Central European writers, for instance, or the ‘Beat poets’) had such an impact on some Indian writers. By examining the role of the ICCF, and of pivotal modernist figures in India such as Nissim Ezekiel, Dilip Chitre or Agyeya, the importance of foreign centers like the American Cultural Center or the British Council, the editorial choices or transnational circuits of journals such as Quest, The Indian PEN, Freedom First, Thought or Imprint, but also little mags like damn you, my aim is obviously not to write a determinist history of the literary scene at the time.

The idea is to illuminate some of the affiliations and rebellions, debates and negotiations that were taking place, but also see how Indian writers “used” the cold war (and the worldliness it gave rise to) or defined themselves against the bi-polarization of the world ; how they often bypassed official circuits, dictates and expectations to suit their own agenda, clear a space for themselves, and invent their own voice and medium.

“What filters through that curtain is only fit for the international shit-pot” wrote Adil Jussawalla provocatively in a student periodical The Campus Times (1972) where he criticizes the ‘dreadful dilution’ of the literature disseminated by international agencies like the USIS in India. This in turn prompted him to launch a “Dangerous Animals” series of readings at St Xaviers’ with writers like James Baldwin, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and … Arvind Krishna Mehrotra : “dangerous animal from Allahabad”.

Thursday January 18, 2018

2-3:30pm : Session 1

Stephanie Newell (Yale), “Disconnecting the -Phone : Anglo-Scribes and Anglo-Literates in West African Newspaper History”
Sara Marzagora (SOAS), “The Emperor, the Intellectuals and the Press : Print Culture and Class Formation in Ethiopia (1941-1970)”

3:30-4 : Coffee break

4-5:30 : Session 2

Saronik Bosu (NYU), “News of the World : Printing the International in Nationalist Times, Amrita Bazar Patrika 1918-22”
Aakriti Mandhwani (SOAS), “From the Age of Dharma to the age of Dharmvir Bharti : Publishing Dharmyug”
Fionnghuala Sweeney (Newcastle), “Playing with Print : CLR James, Paul Robeson and Toussaint L’ouverture”
Friday January 19, 2018

9:30-11am : Session 3

Hala Halim (NYU), “Progressive Aesthetics in Two 1940s Egyptian Journals”
Emily Sibley (NYU), “Exposure : The Visual Culture of the Street and the Egyptian Revolution”

11-11:30pm : Coffee break

11:30-1 : Session 4

Toral Gajarawala (NYU Abu Dhabi), “Sadequain’s Stranger”
Krupa Shandilya (Amherst), “An Incomplete Modernism : On Translating Miraji’s Lost Archive”

1-2:30 : Lunch

2:30-4 : Session 5

Laetitia Zecchini (CNRS), “What filters through the curtain” : Reconsidering Modernism, Travelling Literatures and Little Magazines in a Cold War Context
Sarah Niazi (Westminster), “Film Journalism and the Urdu Public Sphere in India (1930- 1947)”

4-4:30 : Coffee break

4:30-6 : Session 6

Roundtable on “Postcolonial Publishing.” Chaired by James Procter (Newcastle), with Urvashi Butalia (Zubaan Press) in remote connection, Mark Byers (Newcastle), Alison Donnell (University of East Anglia), Nicholas Laughlin (Caribbean Review of Books), Francesca Orsini (SOAS), Jeremy Poynting (Peepal Tree Press), and Stefan Tobler (&Other Stories).

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