The Reader as Critic: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about South Asian Literary Theory But Were Afraid to Ask – Rutgers University – April 20

Charulata (dir. Satyajit Ray, 1964)

A Lecture by Dr. Rita Banerjee
Department of African, Middle Eastern, South and South Asian Literatures and Languages

Thursday, April 20 * 11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Rutgers University, Academic Building 6010
15 Seminary Place, New Brunswick, NJ 08901

The creation hymn from the Rig Veda begins with a series of provocative statements and spiky questions: “There was neither non-existence or existence then…The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe…Whence this creation has arisen…the one who looked down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows – or perhaps, he does not know.” In explaining the origins of the Indus Valley civilization and the universe at large, the Rig Veda’s playful, interrogative style places the burden of understanding and interpretation on the reader. The creative power of the poet, non-dualism, uncertainty, and even atheism are hinted at in these opening lines of the Rig Veda. But what makes this seminal and foundational text of Indic philosophy and oral literature especially interesting is the emphasis it places on the critical distance and interpretive lens of the reader. From the Rig Veda onwards, this gesture towards hermeneutics repeats in canons of South Asian literary theory and literature from texts such as Bharata’s yaśāstra and Kālidāsa’s The Recognition of Śakuntalā in the classical period, to the manifestos and discussions of literary modernisms emerging in Bengali, Hindi, and Indian English little magazines and literatures in the 20th century. In this talk, we will examine why Indic literature continues to place the reader in the role of a critic, translator, debater, or connoisseur. What does placing the reader in the role of the critic convey about South Asian literary theory and intellectual culture? Does the emphasis on the reader as critic reveal the deconstructive, pluralistic, or matrix-like nature of South Asian literary theory? Come join us for a rousing debate and discussion on the structural gestures and intellectual goals of South Asian literary theory.

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