Laetitia Zecchini, {}Bhakti {}Beatniks and ’drop-out’ poets : the Making of a Bombay Counter-Culture in the 60s Colloque Contre-culture dans les arts indiens

Intervenant : Laetitia Zecchini

Musée du Quai Branly, Salle de Cinema
37 Quai Branly, 75007 Paris

This presentation draws in part from material published in my recent book on modernism in India and on the poet Arun Kolatkar who, along with other Bombay writers and artists, fashioned ‘signatures of dissent’ (Geeta Kapur). In India, the period witnessed the flowering of underground publishing collectives and experimental ‘little magazines’ that were explicitly directed against dominant trends, tastes and institutions. They were also worldly from the very start, connected to the international small press movement, to the counter-culture of the times, and to a generation, which the poet Adil Jussawalla has mockingly described as ‘running from acid to Marx’. For many poets and artists, the spirit of dissent and freedom seemed to come, at least in part, from America - from Ginsberg and City Lights books to journals like Partisan Review or Fuck you : a magazine of the arts ; but also from the blues, from rock and roll, black American speech and ‘black culture’. Modernist anti-establishment poets and artists also recover their modernity in specific counter-traditions like bhakti (a tradition also unified by orientalists), which appealed to them for its anti-brahmanical and demotic strands. They reinterpret bhakti composers as marginal and heretic figures engaged in a counter-cultural movement of sorts. The figure of the urban tramp, misfit and drop-out challenging social and cultural orthodoxies, connects bhakti composers, beatniks, blues performers, ‘starving poets’ and the figure of the artist as pilgrim-loafer.

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