Concept Notes

As part of our ongoing project, we seek to define postcolonial print cultures as a field of study. Towards that end, we have identified the following as areas of the field that guide our research questions and inform our methodologies:

Postcolonial Print Cultures and the History of Theory

Prepared by Saronik Bosu

History of theory often ignores, or makes light of, the print cultural conditions of its production. Connections between print cultures in decolonized spaces and the theory that is produced at and about those sites therefore remain largely unexplored area for research. Cases in point are the subaltern historiographies of India that came up in the early 1980s. How can one situate the tension between their ‘history from below’ and the conventional historiographies which they saw as elitist, vis-à-vis the traditional difference between the environments of their inception – the universities of Sussex and Cambridge? How was the project of subaltern studies dependent, since the very beginning, upon its application to contemporary political economy in the pages of journals such as the Economic and Political Weekly? How did subaltern studies marry its enthusiasm for oral sources to existing print cultures and the related prestige of documentary research? Similar questions can be asked about other movements in the production of theory in India – the relationship between literary critical nativism and postcolonial print institutions like the Sahitya Akademi, the differential between academic leftism and the culture of political pamphlets and other ephemera, and so on. We are certain that turning our attention to the particular questions about the development of theory within specific print cultures in postcolonial societies, would return rich dividends.

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Third World Print Cultures

Prepared by Hala Halim

A coinage of Alfred Sauvy’s in L’Observateur (1952), the term “Third World” proved remarkably generative, if at times contested, among the newly liberated nations in the second half of the twentieth century. How did print cultures in small nations conceive of their interconnections avant la lettre and what does delving into this Third World archive reveal about the relationship between the concept of the Third World and the Global South of our times? Much research remains to be done on gestating and unmapped connections between the print cultures of different nations, whether institutionally sustained (e.g.: via such organizations as the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association or the Tricontinental), or independent–as well as the relationship between the two. What would comparative work reveal about local variations on discourses that come into play under the rubric of “Third World,” such as commitment, internationalism, and socialist realism? To what extent did Third World print cultures reconceive of the category of “literature” and what do they have to say to “World Literature”? How did print relate to orality–whether pre-modern, as in folklore and performance, or contemporary audio technology, such as radio? What contribution to Translation Studies might we draw from Third World print cultures, including “little magazines,” anthologies, conference communiqués, pamphlets, and leaflets?

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Archives and Postcolonial Print Cultures

Prepared by Anjali Nerlekar

Just like the material collections that form archives, the idea of the archive itself is a many-sided  concept. As so many theorists have emphasized, it can be both the contents of the collection/s as well as their location in an institution, like a building or a library. It is material in terms of the items contained but also abstract, as Michel Foucault insists, in the external notion of rule or order that is imposed on these items by the formation of the collection itself. It is a tool of colonial imposition and it is also a source of decolonial revolt. In its very formation, archives are purposeful creations, authored projects. And therefore the presence of a public archive raises many complex questions: When taking decisions regarding it, whose needs are the more important, the creators of the archive or its current and potential users? Does the location of the archive matter and can it become an obstacle to the purpose of setting up of the archive? Is it always the case that postcolonial print archives located in the global north are colonizing gestures? Or can there be differing rationales for different archives, where the location is mandated by multiple and sometimes contradictory concerns of the availability of resources, the possibility of framing it in unique or personal ways, or the concern for the access of users/readers to the archive’s contents. Not all of these requisites lead to a singular answer to the problematics of location with reference to any public archive.

The archives are especially crucial to postcolonial print cultures where there is usually a large set of colonial archives but not nearly enough of the voices from the post-independence side of history. Besides a resources crunch in such cases that makes the preservative work of archives difficult in the postcolonial spaces, this also indicates problematic definitions of what is historical and what is not.

And there are additional questions. Who are the beneficiaries of the archives–can archives truly have any decolonial potential despite their conservative nature and goal? What is the relation of the archive to the literary canon? As Walter Benjamin says, “If there is a counterpart to the confusion of the library, it is the order of its catalogue.” Can there be a way of subverting the power of the conventional archive with methods of collection that do not corral the disorderly into tame submission?

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Postcolonial Print Cultures and the Politics of Anti-colonial Resistance

Prepared by Neelam Srivastava

The work and thinking we’ve done so far in our workshops and network meetings around the theme of postcolonial print cultures reveals an implicit, though urgent, call for theorization and the establishing of a methodology. Apparently, the field seems to consist almost solely of “applied” work, given the deeply material nature of our archives: ephemera, visual material/illustrations, radio, manifestos, street art, unpublished material. But theorization in this case becomes all the more necessary; so far we have been working with an empirical idea of our research object. What does it actually mean to be a postcolonial print cultures scholar? Attempting to theorize the field brings us to a set of recurrent research questions that can help to designate the scope of our enquiry which have to do with how we define authorship, the public sphere, and the materiality of genre. For example, in what ways do ephemeral materials, such as magazines, act as the “birth-place” and testing-ground for anti-colonial ideas and the shaping of an anti-colonial subjectivity, during the period of liberation struggles? Such publications could also help disseminate the national cause to a wider international (even metropolitan) audience, and help sway public opinion (e.g. the role played by El Moudjahid, the official organ of the FLN, during the Algerian war of independence against France). The public spheres created around the readerships of magazines and newspapers allow for the formation of political orientations that are fundamentally a co-production: that between reader, editor, and author/journalist. News or opinion articles often elicit a response, such as a letter from readers, so that ideas around national identity or modes of anti-imperialist resistance in the decolonizing moment are debated and fleshed out in a dialogic fashion. Theorizing postcolonial print cultures necessitates a rethinking of authorship then: rather than the model of the single original author of a text, we have a model of co-production, of multiple authorship. This is true of illustrations and visual print culture texts as well. Sadequain revisits Albert Camus’s The Stranger from the perspective of a Pakistani artist living in France in the 1960s (at the time of Algeria’s decolonization), and interprets through a postcolonial gaze, as it were, this iconic text about France’s relationship to the Algerian other. Liberation projects are fundamentally collective; writing and debates around the shape of the postcolonial nation and the new state formation are necessarily drawing on a public sphere of opinion, a nascent imagined national community that is contributing actively to these discussions around postcolonial futures, aiming to (though of course often failing) to cut across class, social, and gender divisions in order to unify the population under an overarching vision.

Another category worth re-examining, in order to produce a working methodology for the field, is the idea of genre. How does genre change when we examine the formation of postcolonial literature through the more fluid and dynamic processes of print culture? How does the reception of the short story, for instance, shift when it is read as part of a magazine, rather than as a more “permanent” literary text in a collection or anthology? In what way is a radio piece a “text”, and what genre is it? Intermediality aims to encompass a much wider range of media and forms than the literary text (what we are calling material genres) to examine the dynamics, aesthetics and politics of everyday culture in the colonial and postcolonial contexts. These can include: literature, visual material, radio, and ephemera (newspapers, magazines, journals). How do these material genres shape perceptions of culture, how do audiences find in these media sites for reflecting/expressing their own political aspirations, their own changing understanding of what culture means to them in the epochal shift from colonization to decolonization, in the transformation of cultural and political hegemonies across a range of geographical areas affected by the unravelling of imperialism? How do notions of the literary change?

Finally, postcolonial print histories of specific political moments, such as the Cold War, reveals heated debates in cultural journals around the very idea of literature. How can it be mobilized to take part in an nationalist/internationalist political struggle such as decolonization? How does this generate debates about the relationship between aesthetic autonomy and political commitment in literature?

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Orality in the Age of Print

Prepared by Rajeswari Sunder Rajan

Contrary to the popular belief that oral cultures are a vestige or residue of an age before literacy and the invention of print technologies, orality and print co-exist in contemporary postcolonial societies in a close symbiotic relationship. The ‘secondary orality’ produced by modern audio-visual technologies—radio, television, cinema, audio tapes, podcasts and the rest— that supplement or even rival print media, is a phenomenon that has developed across the globe (Walter Ong). But in addition there are popular and populist forms of speech communication, especially in the spheres of pedagogy and politics, that have never entirely disappeared: slogans, public speeches, sermons, Parliamentary debates, classroom teaching, revolutionary and communal song, oral story-telling , performative speech in the courtroom, theater, mushairas and poetry slams, and the like. Drawing freely from the written word and as freely transcribed, their effects and meaning are nevertheless defined by the specific forms they inhabit as sound or as print.  Questions of community, reception, dissemination, propaganda, rhetoric and affect are central to the poetics and politics of these forms of oral discourse. The persistence of these forms and their dialectic with print have a resonance in postcolonial societies that we believe requires attention in its own terms.

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Print Culture Meets Visual Culture

Prepared by Emily Sibley

Rising attention to visual culture has led us to consider the interplay between the materiality found in print and the various medias associated with visuality. The more ephemeral forms of print – small magazines, periodicals, e-zines – often include covers, illustrations, cartoons, advertisements, photographs, and other visual material, thus making the visual register an integral part of the “reading” experience. Visual culture demands to be read, too, offering itself up for interpretation and offering key commentary on the written content of print culture. It may support or subvert, engage the emotions, satirize or idealize. In urban studies, visual media are an integral part of the cityscape, with walls, billboards, and public space providing the space of publication. These forms of interplay lead us to ask: how can we rethink print culture as that which includes visual material? Does this implicate a different sense of what it means to be literate? How does it influence or enter the reading practices of different postcolonial communities? Is it subject to censorship in the same ways as print media? How does it contribute to the formation of national, anti-colonial, pedagogical, and aesthetic discourses?

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