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Canons and Counter-discourses

Vivek Sachdeva

By Rana Nayar
Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad, 2012, pp. 272, Rs. 445.00


Whether it were Lionel Trilling and Oscar Handlin in the 1920s or later in the postmodern period, the revision of literary canon to include the voice of women, gays and lesbians, has always carried political undertones. Besides, under the influence of postcolonial literary theory, most Indian scholars of English literature also shifted their attention towards Indian ‘literature(s)’. If postcolonial theory empowered Indian scholars to challenge the canon of English literature in India, the onset of cultural studies in India made teachers of English literature in Indian universities respond also to films and media. Nayar’s book titled Inter-Sections: Essays on Indian Literatures, Translations and Popular Consciousness can be seen in the above mentioned context. Divided into four sections, the book deals with four major issues that have been buzzing in Indian academia for a few decades. The book re-reads ‘Indian Literature’; studies Punjabi literature (regional literature), deals critically with issues of translation studies in India and also includes the author’s reflections on media. At the end, the book critically examines the relevance of theory and makes an appeal for the revival of humanism in the study of literature in India in present times.   Structured like a play, the book has a prologue and an epilogue with four acts or sections. (It should be kept in mind that the author has done a Ph.D. in American Drama and has directed a good number of plays during his teaching career.) The book begins with a prologue in which the author begins with the story of his book on the patterns of the ‘story of creation’. He traces the roots of multiplicity and plurality in literature to understand ‘how a differentiated and classified understanding of literary genres emerged through the ages’ (p. 1). Coming to Indian classical works, the author problematizes how to approach the Mahabharata, as before the eighteenth century it was known as itihasa, purana, or kavya, not epic in India. By problematizing the identity of the ancient Indian epic, the author has questioned the blind adherence to the western paradigm, artificially and violently imposed to comprehend Indian reality. Later, while differentiating and classifying different systems of knowledge, structures of societies and culture, the author finds the relation between changing social and political structure with the evolution and emergence of different literary genres.   The first section is devoted to Indian literature in English. The first essay in this section ...

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