Publishing the Postcolonial:
Politics and Economics of Postcolonial Print Cultures
January 18-19, 2018
Below is a detailed account of each research paper presented at the workshop, and of the final roundtable with publishers and scholars. The papers engaged with a variety of different geo-political, cultural, and linguistic contexts. Several papers looked at the ways in which print cultures developed in relationship to national identity in a decolonial or postcolonial context: India, Egypt, West Africa, and Ethiopia were among the areas covered. Indeed language emerged as a key focus; print production in Hindi, Urdu, and Amharic, the question of translation, and the linguistic diversity of Caribbean literary production (in the roundtable) were all discussed.
The variety of contexts that were explored yielded some fascinating comparisons across different postcolonial print cultures. For example, periodical print’s close attention to local readerships and to their political and social aspirations defies the centre-periphery model often taken as paradigmatic in postcolonial studies; Western culture was often marginal to the construction of “print subjectivities” in the colony and postcolony (Newell 2014). The idea of “local cosmopolitans” surfaced again and again across the various interventions: readers, artists, editors, writers were re-interpreting broad cultural movements such as Surrealism or Modernism for a local audience and for specific political purposes, therefore not so much imitating, but rather revising or interrupting these macro-narratives. At the same time however, global political events like the Cold War or the Arab Spring decisively shaped the story of postcolonial publishing in the postwar era.
Another key theme that emerged was an attention to postcolonial publishing beyond the textual, encompassing the visual as well, with a focus on street art as a radical form of “publishing”, for example; or the illustration of Camus’s The Stranger by the Pakistani artist Sadequain, who re-imagines the story through a postcolonial eye.
Genre also comes to be revised and revisited through the print cultures perspective; reading middle-brow Hindi magazines or Urdu film journals shows how the distinction between journalism and literature becomes decidedly blurred. Poetry and its publication contexts figured prominently in our discussions, especially in the final roundtable.
The papers all addressed the central question of the relationship between the aesthetic and the political. This question becomes particularly relevant within print culture, which in its supposed ephemerality often documents movements, writing, authors, “before” or “alongside” their literary canonization as stand-alone textual entities.
Table of Contents
- Session 1: Stephanie Newell (Yale), “Disconnecting the -Phone: Anglo-Scribes and Anglo-Literates in West African Newspaper History” and Sara Marzagora (SOAS), “The Emperor, the Intellectuals and the Press: Print Culture and Class Formation in Ethiopia (1941-1970)”
- 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”, and Fionnghuala Sweeney (Newcastle), “Playing with Print: CLR James, Paul Robeson and Toussaint L’ouverture”
- Session 3: Hala Halim (NYU), “Progressive Aesthetics in Two 1940s Egyptian Journals” and Emily Sibley (NYU), “Exposure: The Visual Culture of the Street and the Egyptian Revolution”
- Session 4: Toral Gajarawala (NYU Abu Dhabi), “Sadequain’s Stranger” and Krupa Shandilya (Amherst), “An Incomplete Modernism: On Translating Miraji’s Lost Archive”
- Session 5: Laetitia Zecchini (CNRS, La Sorbonne), “What filters through the curtain”: Reconsidering Modernism, Travelling Literatures and Little Magazines in a Cold War Context and Sarah Niazi (Westminster), “Film Journalism and the Urdu Public Sphere in India (1930- 1947)”
- Session 6: Round-table on “Postcolonial Publishing.” Chaired by James Procter (Newcastle), with Mark Byers (Newcastle University), Nicholas Laughlin, in remote connection (Caribbean Review of Books), Sejal Sutaria (King’s College London), Francesca Orsini (SOAS), and Jeremy Poynting (Peepal Tree Press).
THURSDAY JANUARY 18
Stephanie Newell, Yale University
“Disconnecting the -Phone: Anglo-Scribes and Anglo-Literates in West African Newspaper History”
Stephanie’s talk explored the production of West African voices and subjectivities through print, and not prior to it, with a specific focus on African-owned West African newspapers in the colonial period. She used the terms “Anglo-scribes and Anglo-literates” to define both readers and writers/editors of these newspapers, and in her paper she argued for the term “English-language writing” to replace the term Anglophone. Newspapers provide diverse types of texts and readership, and that print is not the same everywhere, and indeed local readerships are important. Newsprint performs more public subjects, and she notes Karin Barber’s point that these newspapers described their readerships in global terms: “to all the readers of the world”. She stressed the capacity of newsprint to reach all classes and language groups. She discussed the conceptualization of connectedness through print, entering public spaces that would otherwise be closed to Africans. Newspapers can be understood as totalities that are anything but local. Stephanie commented on the sheer pleasure in the English language taken by the writers of the articles, a wordiness that was condemned by British officials as “failed mimicry of Englishness” (Bombastic Englishness was seen as a form of subordinate colonial mimicry). Overt protest was masked by the allusive content of the columns – from the empirical to the allusive. But authors like Dick Carnis, a columnist for the Gold Coast Leader, “B.B.”, “A Banker” are anything but colonial mimics, this not a case of anxiety of influence; they all de-verse poetry in a ludic, playful way. Romantic poets, especially Shelley, influenced the style of African journalists. These authors had longevity in the press to the extent to which this was perhaps a literary movement. Print intersected with the oral genre, as some pieces contained the proverbial quoting mode. The derivativeness of the prose is impossible to ignore but it invited readers to decipher the local context behind the metaphors. Confidence and pleasure in their influence. Stephanie defines them not as subjects, but as print subjects having equal access to the English language. Reading such newspapers enables us to think about the transcendental and the universal—apparently anathema to postcolonial theories—through the local. Stephanie concluded with two points: firstly, that the borrowing of theory across global spaces is deeply humanist and so a humanistic model of global connection can be print, as it enables postcolonial humanist networks of affiliation. Secondly, these newspaper pieces, hybrids of literary and journalistic style, cannot and should not be considered as progenitors or as origins of the novel.
Sara Marzagora, SOAS (University of London)
“The Emperor, the Intellectuals and the Press: Print Culture and Class Formation in Ethiopia (1941-1970)”
Sara analyzed Ethiopian intellectuals in Haile Selassie’s empire post-1941 (after the departure of the Italian colonizers) as a class in relation to the state. There was an emphasis and investment in print culture, and a boom of literary works as well. It was thought that print culture would usher in a new era of modernization and progress. Fictional narration became more popular with the novel as a leading genre. Print culture was tightly controlled by Haile Selassie. Intellectuals saw their mission as one of loyal and dedicated service rather than critique. Censorship played a role—print culture is controlled by the state and the emperor. Intellectuals came to prominence through local institutions. Amharic cultural production is very centripetal and not much influenced by foreign literature. It displaces the centrality of the west at a time in which colonial culture was very pervasive in non-western world. There is an intense intertextuality between Amharic texts. The political context was very authoritarian and there was no space for dissent, and there was apparently unanimous support for Haile Selassie.
There is a strong interest in the local; it has been called “inward-looking” by later Ethiopian critics, and even “provincial”. This has to do with how cultural alterity is represented: when the characters travel to Europe, we don’t get to know much about cultural differences or how they experience them when they are abroad.
Sara also discussed what are the local centre-periphery dynamics at work in Ethiopia in this period. Amharic was only spoken in the North of the country, as was Tigrinya. Oromo is spoken in the South (probably the most spoken language in Ethiopia). But print culture was exclusively in Amharic, so it is possible to talk of “amharization”. Haile Selassie outlawed all other languages (state language was Amharic). Other speakers couldn’t use their own languages in education, etc. Other languages didn’t have the chance to develop their own print cultures.
Sara explained that this cultural centralization had to do with the fact that Ethiopia had to maintain a strong internal unity, a unity premised on sameness, partly because colonialism was a threatening influence in 1941 all around them (all of Africa was still under colonial rule in the 1940s). Amharic was seen as a way to defend Ethiopia from European colonialism and to “uplift” Oromos in the south of the country. She emphasized the connection between the language of the colonial or imperial state and development of print culture.
Both Stephanie’s and Sara’s papers focused on two examples of African print cultures that defy the centre-periphery model: is this also about the readerships and consumers of these print cultures? It also raised the question of class and print culture in African contexts.
The intellectuals in colonial West Africa and Ethiopia could be considered “local cosmopolitans”. The structure of the newspaper is universalist: local vs international news. There was no rigid division between fiction and non-fiction—the idea of news as non-fiction was not there. Biblical references were used to discuss current events.
Haile Selassie drew from the collaborators with the Italians much more than from the freedom fighters when he sought to build up an intellectual class in Ethiopia post-invasion.
Saronik Bosu, New York University
“News of the World: Printing the International in Nationalist Times, Amrita Bazar Patrika 1918-22”
Amrita Bazar Patrika became an English-language periodical to circumvent the Indigenous Languages Act which sought to suppress the Indian-language press.
There was an attention to the making of the audience. It anticipates a class of readers that it’s trying to create. Newspapers were read communally, not individually.
Aakriti Mandhwani, SOAS (University of London)
“From the Age of Dharma to the age of Dharmvir Bharti: Publishing Dharmyug”
Middle-brow publishing and nationalism in 1950s India featured, among others, a magazine called Dharmyug, which had a very large circulation. It used very good quality paper and had a circulation of more than 60,000. There are sections on photographs and newlyweds, topics of interest to the new post-Independence middle class. Readers read Nayi Kahani [the “New Story”, a literary movement in Hindi literature] in commercial magazines. They read literary writings alongside American articles and ads, etc. è it was aimed at middle-class readerships.
After Dharmvir Bharti became the editor, the magazine became much more about literary modernism. What we witness is the birth of literary cosmopolitanism in a commercial magazine è concept of the middle-brow.
This projects the idea of a discerning reader who wishes to travel and be informed/knowledgeable, imagining themselves to be part of a larger global cultural landscape. Emotion is a key moment of the magazine, and the magazine is configured as part of the domestic sphere.
The editors commissioned their own pieces, didn’t borrow from other papers or magazines. They sent editors to various locations. They were owned by the Times of India. Writers actually worked for the magazine and commissioned pieces and issues. A careful reading of the magazine shows that its modernism was not shorn of its radicalism.
Fionnghuala Sweeney, Newcastle University
“Playing with Print: CLR James, Paul Robeson and Toussaint L’Ouverture”
Pan-Africanists in London had a direct link with Indian anti-colonialism in the 1930s. The Jamaican Daily Gleaner also circulated in Britain. Space of the tragic emerges as the new constitution of the heroic. It is a revolutionary diaspora: there was an Africanist public domain in Britain. Tragedy is an enabling model of cultural understanding of the anti-colonial moment. The play Toussaint L’Ouverture by CLR James was one of the few explicit stagings of these Pan-Africanist texts as literature.
Reception of Emperor Jones (with Paul Robeson) è the question of rational black leadership. Black and mainstream print cultures in London intermingle in the stories of the plays, and photos of Robeson in various print outlets, eg Vanity Fair,
The Black Man, edited by Marcus Garvey contained comments on Robeson, with Garvey’s anxious acknowledgement of the power of the visual. Robeson was the most visible diasporic black man in the global imaginary. Fionnghuala argued that he overcomes in performance the limitations of the play.
Afro-modernism is characterized by its political radicalism more than by its literary innovation, so it is not a sort of “Afro-Bloomsbury”.
Garvey and Padmore are key to the role of print culture in shaping a black subjectivity that seeks to go beyond Soviet-funded projects of liberation: from The Negro Worker to International African Opinion, edited by Padmore and CLR James. The question of print culture raises the question of the world as news vs. the world as literature. What is the place of global capital?
The question of information: constructing a sense of world literature, the magazine as a place for discerning and knowing readers, constructed as a space in which this is how you learn about world literature.
FRIDAY JANUARY 18
Hala Halim, New York University
“Progressive Aesthetics in Two 1940s Egyptian Journals”
The presentation addressed two short-lived cultural journal-projects published in Egypt during World War II: al-Tatawwur (Development: 1940) and al-Majalla al-Jadida (The New Magazine: 1929-1944, the discussion focusing on the period 1942-44 under a new editor). The two journals emerge out of a juncture of the avant-garde and the left. They were edited by a group of writers and artists who established Art el Liberté (Art and Freedom) and Pain et Liberté (Bread and Freedom), the prominent figures among whom promoted surrealism and who were largely Trotskyist leaning, or, “Free Marxists,” in the words of Louis Awad, opposed to the larger Stalinist groups. The artists and writers involved in the two groups strove to retain a balance between an anti-colonial orientation and an internationalist commitment to social justice. The presentation addressed the editorials and policy of al-Tatatawwur, edited by Anwar Kamil, and brought out its emphasis on (its often conjoined) local poverty and women’s liberation. Intended to be a monthly magazine, al-Tatawwur was censored and eventually ceased publication after the seventh issue. Touching on the difficulty of collecting all the issues of al-Majalla al-Jadida in the relevant period–when Ramses Younan, Art et Liberté artist and art critic, took over its editorship–the presentation addressed its editorials on progressiveness and the role of the intellectual. Editorials outlining a progressive, internationalist stance were cited, with a particular focus on India and figureheads of the Progressive Writers’ Association. Hala closed with a note on the legacy of the Egyptian progressive writers and artists and the increased interest in their work in the past three decades.
Emily Sibley, New York University
“Exposure: The Visual Culture of the Street and the Egyptian Revolution”
Bahia Shehab is a street artist whose work began with her contribution to an exhibition in Munich titled “The Future of Tradition—The Tradition of the Future.” Shehab recreated calligraphy from across the Islamic world, repeating the word NO 1000 times. As she states, “For me, as a human being living in the world in this moment – as an artist, an Arab, a woman – I decided I had only one thing to say: NO.” Her work re-appears as stenciled street art in Cairo, articulating specific refusals to abuses of state power: “No to fascism, no to military tribunals, no to barricade walls”.
The history of contemporary events is underwritten by a history of colonialism and the intertwining of print history in Egypt with imperial power. Even Shehab’s comments on contemporary visual expression carries this implication as she laments, “We have failed to produce a font worthy of historic resonance.” The beginning of print history in Egypt is seen to coincide with the arrival of Napoleon in 1798, who then took the printing press with him when he left. The largely independent governor of Egypt, Mohamed ‘Ali Pasha, reinstated them thereafter as part of his modernization efforts, which made use of European methods, institutions, and material capital.
Reading Cairo—its newspapers, art, and physical landscape—means reading it as a palimpsest, where the material histories structuring the city inform our understanding of the present visual sphere. The importance of Tahrir Square becomes foregrounded as the heart of a newly liberated Egypt, part and parcel of a rejection of the colonial city and the appropriation of its space. The demonstrations that began in 2011 reconnect this space to its anti-colonial history, and the artistic statements found around the square stake a claim to political credibility and cultural authenticity by virtue of their very location.
The reclamation of public space intensified after Morsi was ousted from power in 2013. An anti-protest law made it illegal for more than 10 people to gather in public, while “abusive” graffiti was punished with large fines and time in prison. The Egyptian regime thus recognized street art as a form of political contestation and a struggle over who owned the street. The concept of public space is contested, with the state asserting its position as the adjudicator of the nationalist narrative that these protests evoke.
The stripping of a woman by security forces in Tahrir Square serves as a case in point in terms of how contemporary events evoke anti-colonial movements and colonial regimes of power. The public’s reaction to the stripping was the “Million Women March,” the largest demonstration of women in Egypt. This implicitly recalls the 1919 women’s protest against British rule, when elite women marched towards the US Embassy to emphasize the right to self-determination and were confronted by British forces. Women’s militancy in the public sphere meant that women asserted their legitimacy on the basis of national belonging. Public exposure was in the service of nationalism, when previously, elite women remained in the harem, screened from view. Exposure of the woman in 2011 and the stripping of her abaya evoked the colonial fantasy of stripping the veiled women of the harem, where that stripping equaled a form of colonial possession. This form of exposure strips women of agency through the degradation and exposure of their bodies. However, in the case of the protestor in Tahrir Square, her blue bra became a symbol asserting the right to public presence, political engagement, and integrity of the body. It was incorporated into street art and stenciled on the walls, and the shape of it recalls the word “NO” in Arabic, creating another refusal: “no to stripping the people.”
Ultimately, street art is a radical form of publishing, where the transient expressions attached to public physical sites expose and instigate performances of political subjectivity.
Toral Gajarawala, New York University
The Pakistani artist Sadequain was born in or near Delhi, and became the pre-eminent national artist of Pakistan. He produces “calligraphic modernism”, whereby letters are distorted and formed into a composition. He was taken in particular by Picasso. His work is characterized by an eclectic idiom: Sufism, and it is quite difficult, hermetic. Wherever Sadequain would go, he would leave his paintings and would not take payment for his work. He spent a year in India painting enormous murals in 1962.
For Sadequain, abstraction is not apolitical, but a critique of the ideology embedded in form. He was lauded by Zia Ul-Haq as the pre-eminent Islamic artist. He worked within a dominant colour scheme, and in the mid-1960s he illustrated Camus’s The Stranger. His representational work is marked by the use of a trembling line; see for example his plate in his illustrated edition of The Stranger, “Killing an Arab”, 1966.
The question of readership is key: what happens when a book doesn’t have a readership?
A Pakistani imagines the Arab, thus producing a postcolonial critique that he was never properly imagined in the novel. Scattered throughout the book are a series of black and white lithographs, borderline lithographs. Gradually the limbs and digits take up the frame until they appear gargantuan. These pieces are stylistically distinct from the larger colour lithographs that decorate the novel. The border is all abstract, though there is a chain of affect linking it with the larger lithographs. These borders might be called “paratext”; it forms a narrative art of the book, another narrative that is not representational and not realist. Sadequain said: “India told me what to paint, France told me how to paint”. But his work also urges us to think beyond the colonial divide, i.e. South Asia providing the content and Europe the form.
Sadequain’s art has an artistic integrity of its own rather than being merely illustrative. How did he read the novel? It’s almost certain he didn’t read it in English. His plates are grotesque, though the novel by contrast has a crisp clean prose.
The figures are not interested in representing or re-imagining the key scenes of the novel. It wouldn’t be right to think it a vernacularization of modernism but rather an indifference to it. Sadequain’s Stranger produces a unique visual grammar that is not replicated in his other work. He then moved to visual calligraphy afterwards. He presents us with a quite radical interpretation of the novel, possibly because the French literary canon was not available to him. The Nayi Kahani movement was influenced by existentialism, and had a big influence on Hindi literature. But this realm of thought was totally alien to Sadequain.
He refers to his work as a mis-translation of European modernism, because he never saw it in the original, just in magazines. Toral concluded by saying that Sadequain’s work interrupts and revises European modernism, and that he did not use it to liberate himself from the Indo-Persian figurative tradition.
Krupa Shandilya, Amherst College
“An Incomplete Modernism: On Translating Miraji’s Lost Archive”
Miraji was a foremost Urdu modernist poet; his is a lost archive.
Miraji had a huge disagreement with the Progressive Writers’ Association because they disagreed with the word “progressive”. So they boycotted him and he didn’t form part of their mainstream. He wanted the word “progressive” to include discussions of sexuality. He dressed in women’s clothes and he was bisexual. Progressive signifies revolutionary or avant-garde in Urdu.
Miraji produced works for All India Radio. He wrote a thousand poems, but only twelve poems were translated into English. Krupa is currently preparing a scholarly edition of his poetry. The second part of her talk focused on the difficulties of translating Miraji. It is not readily available as a surface translation, and one needs to delve into the texts and its polysemy. She gave an example, which in the extant translation is “Singular waves of joy”; Krupa translates it as “unusual waves of erotic pleasure”. She then performed a close reading of different translations of the poem. Because he has been translated literally, she argues, he has been considered perverted.
Tanya Agathocleous: What do you do with figures that don’t fit, how do you incorporate them within discussions of modernism?
Miraji and Sadequain met at All-India Radio.
Graphic narrative – collapsing of word and image comes directly from the calligraphic tradition.
Laetitia Zecchini, CNRS (Paris)
“’What filters through the curtain’: Reconsidering Modernism, Travelling Literatures and Little Magazines in a Cold War Context”
Nissim Ezekiel edited The Indian PEN and the journal Quest among other journals of the 50s, 60s and 70s; this tells us that some of the mediums and spaces through which the critical scene at the time was shaped, and modernisms crafted, need to be read against the Cold War background. The first issue of Quest (famously funded by the Congress for Cultural Freedom) in 1955 included poems by Dom Moraes and Arun Kolatkar, paintings of MF Husain, as well as a film review of a Kurosawa film and a long self-portrait of Ignazio Silone (an important figure of the CCF and editor of another CCF journal, Tempo Presente).
The story of postcolonial writing and publishing is also the story of the Cold War. Why were certain authors read, translated and published in India? How does the Cold War explain the international circuits, transnational affiliations and editorial choices of journals and little mags like Quest, Imprint, but also damn you, even Vrishchik? The idea is first to examine how Indian literatures and literary cultures at the time were changed by the ‘worldliness’, travelling literatures and “new conversations” made possible by the Cold War. Second to re-examine modernism through a perspective that Laetitia says she had previously overlooked i.e. the mechanics (politics and economics) of literary circulation. Third, see how the “signatures of dissent” fashioned by many little magazines can also be understood against or in reaction to the Cold War, since many Indian writers defined themselves against the Cold War bipolarization of the world, and often bypassed official circuits, dictates or influences to clear a space for themselves.
This research also aims to intervene in the debates on world literature. What this ‘cold war’ part of the story shows is that what gets to circulate is often what is politically or ideologically correct – literary value only gets the backseat. Literatures that get consecrated or translated are those that are subsidized by foundations, by governmental organizations (like the CCF) or by state-funded programs.
In 1973 Mohan Rakesh acknowledged that India was a chess board between URSS and US ideologists, and many writers were caught in the middle, with both blocks devising or funding journals, translations, conferences, books, etc. to defend its interests. Out of this “vast arsenal”, Laetitia was especially struck by the work of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), massively funded by the CIA, and created in 1950 at a time when cultural freedom was also “an anti-Soviet banner” (M. Sabin), and which inaugurated a branch in Bombay in 1951 (ICCF), and by the United States Information Service (USIS).
The Cold War can be understood both as a form of cultural synchronization across the globe and as a form of disjunction—literatures were partitioned along antithetical ideologies. On the one hand, then, it did contribute to create a ‘world literature’ and helps to contextualize an illuminating text like Dilip Chitre’s introduction to his Anthology of Marathi Poetry: “The world shrank greatly”. The Cold War background also helps to understand the American affiliation of the Bombay literary and artistic scenes of the 1950s and 60s (journals like Partisan Review that were circulated among the little magazine crowd, the importance of the American Center and USIS Library, America’s PL 480 program, etc.) Laetitia argued that the Cold War context sharpened the debate between the politics of art and its autonomy, “abstract expressionism” vs. “social realism”, which gets mapped onto the prayogvad/pragativad but also liberal / progressive dichotomies, and this debate was played out in the pages of many journals at the time.
Yet between American Shadow over India and Moscow’s Hand in India, writers and intellectuals struggled to liberate themselves from such grids.
Despite Quest’s funding and lineage, Nissim Ezekiel’s obsession was to foster an independent critical culture and create the conditions in which cultural freedom could thrive in India. A regular contributor of Quest gives this struggle for independence a poignant tone in a 1970 article: “How do we stop being somebody’s image?” He also ends his text on the “pure logic of refusal”, the likes of which produced “real blues and real jazz”. This logic of refusal which partly signals the passage from one epoch to another, from the height of the Cold War to an international counter-culture, is also the passage from an officially endorsed culture to sub-cultures or countercultures that tried to offer alternatives, and rediscovered, as it were, the radicalism of modernism.
Official curtain-filtered art and literature is what many writers and artists positioned themselves against. Laetitia quoted a 1972 article by Adil Jussawalla where the poet attacks the “castration” or “dilution” which is taking place when art and literature reach India. “Art as presented by various international agencies like the USIS is simply art with its balls removed … What filters through that curtain is only fit for the international shitpot”. In the same article, he calls for the living acid of Indian writing to eat the curtain away. She links Jussawalla’s comment to Barnhisel’s “Cold War modernism”, where modernism was re-defined as a cultural weapon during the cold war, it was defanged, purged of its radical charge and its hostility toward bourgeois culture.
And it‘s also because of that “dreadful dilution” that many Indian writers acknowledge the importance of Central and Eastern European poets, whose urgency they admired, and the lasting importance of the Beats.
Laetitia ended by saying that in different rather than in antithetical ways, Nissim Ezekiel through Quest and Mehrotra through damn you for instance were struggling for the means of cultural, political and literary emancipation, striving for an independent voice and space.
Modernism and social realism emerged as two key styles in this period, which prompted the question of what kinds of literary values are being promoted by either side of the iron curtain? What kind of literary movements are being made to align, e.g., modernism aligned with “western” democracy and realism with Soviet communism?
What about, for example, close reading Practical Criticism, forged in Cambridge in the 1960s? How does it emerge out of Cold-War cultural and political dynamics?
Sarah Niazi, University of Westminster
“Film Journalism and the Urdu Public Sphere in India (1930- 1947)”
Film journalism explores the connections between the literary and cinematic. Sarah argued that in India, cinema drew a huge amount of energy from Urdu literary culture. Film journals play a role in constructing a cinematic public sphere, and they also play an important role in the consumption of film in India. Sarah gave the example of the film journal Bhijoli, which started in 1920, in Bengali.
Urdu film journals of the early 20th century explored cinema’s relationship to language. But few histories of Indian cinema mention Urdu film journals. Not a single copy of Urdu film journals has found a place in the archive. Film journals were not considered worthy of academic study and preservation.
Sarah then discussed another journal: Shama, explaining that this was more than a film journal. It published poetry, ghazals, and so this gave it some kind of cultural legitimacy. There were literary columns that were read in film clubs in the 1970s and 1980s. By the mid-40s, Shama had become a huge success and it catered to the Urdu-reading public in both India and Pakistan and had a large readership in Europe as well. There were more than a dozen references to Urdu film journals in research Sarah conduced on European archives. Some of the journal titles were recorded through the surveillance of the India Office department.
The Hindi-Urdu divide has an impact on these Urdu film journals.
Film journal based in Hyderabad dedicated a special issue to the language of cinema (1941). They argued that Urdu created an ordinary language good for Hindus and Muslims equally. Film India is a very important English-medium film journal.
Urdu journalism is done in the cause of the Indian film industry.
Role of the Indian film journalist is that of a man of letters with a literary conscience. It is the role of the Indian film journalist to ensure that this new mechanical innovation, film, does not impact negatively on social conditions in India.
Indian Film Studies Association: film was seen as critical to nation-building.
Cinema came to embody an expansive and inclusive form of Hindustani in a novel media setting, that of talking films.
Convened by James Procter, Newcastle University
Jeremy Poynting, Peepal Tree Press
Nicholas Laughlin Caribbean Review of Books
Sejal Sutaria, King’s College London
Mark Byers, Newcastle University
Jeremy Poynting (editor of Peepal Tree Press; described as ‘Caribbean literature’s favourite Englishman’ in the Trinidad Guardian – the newspaper which published Sam Selvon’s earliest stories in the 1940s, employed Seepersad Naipaul and inspired VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas. As our own Nicholas Laughlin has pointed out elsewhere ‘Poynting has published more Caribbean literature than anyone else anywhere, ever.’) – over 300 books and lasted three decades
Nicholas Laughlin (Trinidadian writer and editor, the editor of The Caribbean Review of Books (2004–present) and Caribbean Beat (2003–2006, then 2012–present). He’s programme director of the Bocas Lit Fest,. He edited CLR James’ the Letters from London (2003). His book of poems The Strange Years of My Life was published in 2015.
Dr Sejal Sutaria: is a Postdoctoral Marie-Curie Fellow at King’s College London. Her research and teaching interests include postcolonial approaches to twentieth-century global Anglophone literature with particular focus on British modernism, South Asian literature, and Dalit and indigenous writing. She is currently working on a monograph entitled Multipolar Modernity and the Making of Modernist Resistance in Britain and India.
Prof Francesca Orsini (SOAS) is a literary historian whose work explores how multilingualism worked and continues to work within the literary cultures of South Asia, and beyond. Her interests include book history and she’s worked on commercial publishing in Hindi and Urdu in the nineteenth century (Print and Pleasure, 2009). She leads the major research project “Multilingual locals and significant geographies: for a new approach to world literature”
Dr Mark Byers (Newcastle) is the author of The Practice of the Self: Charles Olson and American Modernism (Oxford University Press, 2018). His interests include: Contemporary Poetry; Late Modernism; Archives; Digital Humanities; Textual Studies. And since arriving at Newcastle he’s been thinking particularly about the poetics of the archive, drawing on the University library’s recently acquired Bloodaxe archive.
Questions from James to the Roundtable:
Print’s relation to local and global is not just a neat binary, or as one enveloping the other:
but as the ‘local’ as an important paradigm in itself for thinking beyond common-sense notions of the ‘world’ or ‘global’ –Peepal Tree as non-metropolitan publisher which grows out of a garage in Leeds in 1986, or the Northumbrian Bloodaxe Archive. Is the location of these publishers immaterial? [Ngugi-Leeds; Faber’s ‘literary vandalism’; versus Peepal on Hearne]…
Nicholas has said: ‘to some of us based in the Caribbean, it often seems that Caribbean literature has largely been and is increasingly being written by expatriate writers (i.e., Caribbean-born but based elsewhere) and published by non-Caribbean publishers for a significantly non-Caribbean audience.’
Would it be alright to offer some reflections on the push and pull between the move to write global books versus area studies books and ways to navigate these questions? Those reflections sound like they’d be really pertinent to the dilemmas facing the publishing industry. Does that make sense?
My thought was to deliver a speculative set of reflections about what it means to navigate the categories of World Literature, Global Anglophone, and South Asian Studies from the perspective of someone rooted in the discipline of English Language and Literature with postcolonial reading politics. Rather than laying out laments about how the “global/continental book,” with a continent per chapter is deemed more exciting, rigorous, novel than a book focused on a single region—area studies—I’m keen to think about what sort of literary, formal, and political commitments each one might allow one to achieve. Is there any truth to this idea that one variety of scholarship is valued more than another? In some ways, nothing has changed in that the questions of how to parse the universal and the particular, the local and global, or the individual or the collective persist and the urgency to address them with rigor and empathy has heightened exponentially. So, what now? Are there metaphors, constructs, or methodologies that allow us to rethink or maybe even supplant such categories in productive and empowering ways? We have so many questions about how and why, but what is it that we think is at stake and what would a set of desirable outcomes actually look like?
There’s a question whether postcolonial equals world literature. Global Anglophone in area studies. How we can expand our thoughts as to what print culture includes?
How about texts that were once oral? E.g. is Dalit literature part of postcolonial/world literature? Is there a metaphor that can sit alongside planetarity/globality and that can do that similar work, without the pretensions to universalism? What do we want as an end?
Active work of revising accepted canons; work of Peepal Tree. There is a version of Caribbean poetry that is distinctively modernist and that hasn’t seen the light of day. Angel McNeill is one who should be up there with Walcott et al. Missing voice. One of the questions is who do we publish for?
You publish for a community of writers, and you publish for yourself. You publish for what you think are Caribbean readers, Trinidadian, Jamaican etc . We publish for teachers/educators for books on syllabi. We publish for abstractions. Jeremy developed a Caribbean Modern Classics, that created a cultural awareness of the Caribbean and that you couldn’t find anymore.
Edgar Mittelholzer was the first major Caribbean writer.
I talk about Anglophone publishing in the Caribbean. Spanish, Dutch and French, and these are the four languages spoken in the Caribbean.
There are more Caribbean authors than ever before, also thanks to the introduction of grants and awards to support writers. It’s incredibly difficult to move books around the region. They rarely leave the small island-nation where they are published. The majority of writers are self-published. There are only a handful of active publishing houses in the Anglophone Caribbean. There are no funding mechanisms e.g. Arts Council to fund writers and publishers.
The Caribbean is not a geographical space but something else; it’s extra-territorial.
My background is in magazine publishing, and I edit a magazine. Earlier, magazines were more interested in publishing literary materials.
The big thing is the shift to internet and to online publication. It makes a difference to people in small peripheral spaces. is where writers share work and have debates. Annual festivals are places where readers and book-buyers can buy printed books; this is the closest to literary institutions that support writers.
Post-postcolonial. Our literature may have become postcolonial but not sure our publishing has caught up.
Francesca Orsini, SOAS (University of London)
Writings on internationalism in India: magazines, writing association, individual gate-keepers. How do they produce visions of the world that make certain parts of the world appear close?
1930s: first Hindi book on world literature
Miraji is translated and made available to Urdu readers and a wide range of poets, including from China, Laos Korea, often drawing from existing English/French translations.
1950s and 60s: more channels in which Indian literature came and appeared. Attempt to make Indian authors more systematically available.
How do we study the world of magazines, especially in their more fleeting existence, and perhaps not available in the archives?
Internationalist literature that travels. How does literature get lost and forgotten?
The meetings are important: Afro-Asian Writers Association. Moments of Afro-Asian solidarity in which it appeared alive. This goes against the systematic modelling of world literature. The way in which stories reach readers is much more haphazard, often through personal connections, not systematic.
Mark Byers, Newcastle University
Bloodaxe was founded in alternative to the ambit of London publishers. It was given a space to redefine the poetry landscape of the period.
Newcastle is a major venue for Caribbean and Black poetry versus slow (non) diversification of Chatto and others. Independence of Bloodaxe from metropolitan centres writing is similar to Soviet Union status/positioning.
The readership, nature and status of Bloodaxe’s political address come to the fore when we are dealing with the dissemination by a regional British publisher, which actively reinterpreted the text at the moment of publication, aligning it with completely different expectations.
Poem by Linton Kwesi Johnson: ‘All Wi Doin is Defendin’ (overhead) first in Dread Beat and Blood. Johnson was published by Bloodaxe but he’s not seen as a radical black poet subject to racism as he is in the African American scene. Who is the “we” of the poem? Its readers are subject rather than audience. It gives him commonality with northern working-class poets, e.g. Tony Harrison. The positioning and reception of Caribbean black poets are transformed by their poetic company. This raises the question: how is the text actively re-organized by its publishing context?
Nicholas Laughlin: Small islands are both very inward-looking and very outward-looking. Caribbean literature increasingly means a Caribbean writer who has been away for a long time.
Jeremy Poynting: I start from the assumption that there is a major difference where you live i.e., Brooklyn or Barbados or Trinidad. You have different things in your head from someone who has memories and visits back etc but doesn’t exist in this place and struggle to survive in this place.
Question from Anjali about Peepal Press publishing: Jeremy, you have published some of the greatest writers from the Caribbean but there must be more writers you would like to but can’t publish. How do you deal with the anxiety of creating a canon that is not complete? Do you have any questions or concerns about creating a canon you cannot expand?
Jeremy: Yes. But you can only publish what people submit to you. In the very early days of Peepal Press, my academic background was doing research on that area and there were a number of Caribbean writers I wanted to publish. It was never going to stay that way. You are conscious there are those Facebook fallouts – a huge thing, but the issue of race is a major issue in Caribbean conversations and letters and so on. You carry that consciousness with you. I know which writers I’ve once published will say ‘You haven’t got enough Indo-Caribbean writers’ etc. But I’m not into that kind of counting. Where are your best stories? What are the stories that really carry and have something to say? We have Chinese and Indian and European and African Caribbean heritage among our writers. I don’t do charts and tables about how many I’ve got. Kwame Dawes is my poetry editor. I should have a woman up there as well. You ask questions of yourself all the time. I rarely miss things. We set up a shared imprint, Peecash [sp?] Press will do mainly anthologies focusing on largely unpublished writers who lived in the Caribbean. (Set up with Johnny Temple.) We’ll see what Peecash will do.
Nicholas: The next Peecash Book has a title: an anthology of new writing by writers who are finalists for fiction [voice unclear: a competition?] and a couple of essays.
Francesca: why do you not travel across languages in the Caribbean?
Nicholas: A couple of reasons. There is a strong sense of regional identity that is divided by language. The Dutch Islands are more tightly knit and span 4 islands. Translation is expensive. Most of the writers from non-Anglophone countries are translated in New York or London or Montreal. There’s a single publisher in the Caribbean that I know of, a publisher in St. Martin. Very special, half-French, half-Dutch, and they publish books in those languages for a local readership.
Jeremy: the last book we published was a reissue of a dual-language book by/with Pedro Mia [sp?]. If we had more person-power we would do more in translation.
James: thanking everybody.
Report Prepared by Neelam Srivastava