All the student abstracts follow, listed in the order of presentation. Please note that diacritics were standardized in the titles of the papers, but not in the body of the abstracts.
Disrupting Literature’s Place: Intentionality and Politics in Telugu Feminist Poetry / Sravanthi Kollu
This paper will explore the contours of the idea of intentionality in essays from a crucial text of modern Telugu poetry, Neeli Meghalu, a collection of poetry written by women in the 1980s in Andhra Pradesh, India. These poems were published in Telugu literary magazines and newspapers and dealt with themes such as sexuality, reproduction, and oppressive gender stereotypes. The poetry elicited vituperative criticism from the largely male Telugu literary establishment. In trying to understand this criticism, the women writers posit that writing poetry as women is central to the disruptive nature of their poetry. However, in spite of the enormous significance attributed to women as authors of poetry, the essays struggle to arrive at a suitable criterion for determining what qualifies as feminist poetry. This is important because it destabilizes what seems to be an easy conflation between women representing themselves and positive representations of women that occurs at some other moments in the text.
I will focus on these moments of struggle in the text, crucially the retrospective labeling of the poetry as feminist poetry (stree vaada kavitvam), and the women writers’ attempt to attribute reasons for the critique of their poetry. The second is best captured in a line from one of the essays which asks “Do words become either obscene or not depending on the intention behind using them?” The same could be asked of politics in the space of literature. Does politics in the text emerge from the intention of the author or from something more intrinsic to the text? This question necessarily leads to the reconfiguration of the place of literature through bringing to bear questions of politics on literary texts. My essay will be an attempt to trace this relationship between intentionality, politics, and the potential disruption of the place of literature in the cultural imaginary.
Crafting the Dalit Political Subject in South India / Malarvizhi Jayanth
Literature and journalism in Tamil and Malayalam from Lower caste communities of the late 19th and early 20th century offers glimpses of literary production from communities historically denied literacy. Following the abolishing of agricultural slavery in the middle of the 19th century, castes that were traditionally enslaved agricultural labor begin to access education through institutions and migrate in large numbers to different locations within the British empire. In this period, lower-caste leaders in Madras Presidency and the princely state of Travancore begin to re-interpret history to understand the origins of caste, mobilize the early labor movements, wield religious conversion and reform as modes of political protest and lead the first protests against gendered caste practices. Novels such as Saraswati Vijayam (1892) by Potheri Kunhambu (1857-1919) in Malayalam, the journalism of Dalit scholars like Ayothee Thass (1845-1914), biographies and published speeches of Dalit leaders such as Ayyankali (1863-1941), M.C. Raja (1883-1943) and Rettaimalai Srinivasan (1860-1945) draw upon this history and offer substantial proof of the formation of the Dalit political subject in print. Reading literature and journalism produced by lower-caste communities in Tamil and Malayalam, I argue, first, that lower-caste literary production enables the articulation of a political identity in opposition to caste and issued a major challenge to gendered caste practices in the region. Second, I illustrate that in the late 19th and early 20th century, Tamil and Malayalam literature remained in conversation with one another. This paper thus also examines inter-lingual conversation and the ways in which it enabled an emancipatory politics.
How to Read a Stotra? A Close Reading of Vedāntadeśika’s Godāstuti / Shiv Subramaniam
Within the south Indian religious tradition of Śrīvaiṣṇavism, the praise-poems known as stotras have been understood either as prayers addressed to the deity within a ritual context or as embodiments of philosophical and theological views. I want to investigate this latter understanding of stotras with the following broad questions in mind: In what sense did Śrīvaiṣṇava writers of stotras use theological concepts in their compositions? And how could a more nuanced understanding of the Śrīvaiṣṇava stotra improve on the ways scholars have approached this genre in the past?
Vedāntadeśika (fl. 1269-1370) was both a philosopher-theologian as well as a composer of stotras. Basing themselves on differences they identify between the views of Vedāntadeśika’s poems and those of his philosophical works, some scholars have argued that stotras may have served as an alternative medium through which Vedāntadeśika could explore theological ideas. I examine this hypothesis in a close reading of Vedāntadeśika’s Godāstuti, a Sanskrit stotra in praise of the Tamil poet Āṇḍāḷ. For the Śrīvaiṣṇavas, Āṇḍāḷ is counted sometimes as one among the twelve saint-poets known as the Āḻvārs, sometimes as a goddess married to Viṣṇu, and often as both of these. I focus on those verses in the Godāstuti that refer to the theological concepts concerning Āṇḍāḷ’s ambiguous status in the divine hierarchy, and attempt to characterize how Vedāntadeśika incorporates these concepts in his depiction and praise. I conclude that while Śrīvaiṣṇava theology constitutes much of the context in which this and other stotras of Vedāntadeśika are composed and read, they cannot be read primarily as texts that propounded theological doctrine.
Abhinava, Somadeva, and the Problem of the Total Text / Luther Obrock
The efflorescence of literary culture in Kashmir around at the turn of first millennium stands as a pivotal period in the intellectual culture of South Asia. Literature, literary theory, and the philosophy and practice of tantric religion were creatively recast and reimagined in this period, and the texts produced in the valley were widely read and influential throughout the Subcontinent. One thinks especially of the great exegete Abhinavagupta (ca. 950-1050) and his influential exposition of Tantric philosophy of practice, the Tantrāloka (The Light on the Tantras). Another one of the luminaries of this period, who this paper will highlight is among the greatest stylists of Sanskrit poetry, Somadeva (ca. 1068-1081). Somadeva wrote the famed Kathāsaritsāgara (The Ocean for the Streams of Story), which itself purportedly rewrote the Bṛhatkathā, the nearly mythical Great Story, which tells a complex tale of humans and divine beings.
In this essay I will juxtapose Abhinava and Somadeva, two nearly contemporaneous thinkers who have rarely, if ever, been considered together. In particular, I will look at how they imagine transmission of an original but lost or hidden textual totality. Chapter Thirty-Six of Abhinava’s magisterial Tantrāloka theorizes the śāstrapāta, the descent of Śaiva scripture into the world of men. Somadeva’s first chapter, the kathāpīṭha, or site of story, traces the promulgation of the Great Story through its first telling by Śiva to Pārvatī to its translation into the Piśaca language, its near loss, and the miraculous recovery of a fragmentary version of the original tale. Abhinava and Somadeva share a strikingly similar interest in first theorizing an original textual totality and also locating fragmentary tellings in their “real” world. This paper hopes to probe the interest in originary texts and the anxieties of placing real textual loss and proliferation.
Zulaykhā’s Banquet Interpreted Through the Lens of Vision / Leila El-Murr
This paper examines the banquet scene in Jami’s masnavi Yusuf o Zulaykha through the lens of theories of vision. I will argue that the text exploits the extramissive theory of vision in order to present Yusuf as a theophany. This interpretation is supported by a miniature contained in a manuscript of the McGill Rare Books Collection illustrating this very scene.
We will look at textual support for the extramissive theory of vision in the discussion of the women as they anticipate Yusuf’s arrival, in descriptions of Yusuf and his clothing, and in the reactions of the women to his sight. From this we can conclude that Yusuf’s clothing serve as outward expressions of his inner nature and are analeptic references to his prophetic and royal heritage.The reactions of the women, classified according to the extent to which they have lost their agency, invokes the story of the mountain that crumbles upon sight of God and also causes Moses to lose consciousness (Q 7:143). By referring to this religious story and also to Yusuf as “a hidden treasure,” which alludes to a famous hadith qudsi, the case can be made that Yusuf is an outward manifestation of God.
In the second part, we will study a 16th century miniature from McGill Library illustrating the moment when the women have seen Yusuf. It contains elements reflecting the extramissive theory of vision such as the colour layout which does not complement the textual description. Additionally, there are two classical poetic metaphors, the erotic forelock and the erect cypress tree which signal Yusuf’s position as the beloved. The fire halo around Yusuf’s head is yet another symbol of Yusuf’s prophetic and regal position. We will conclude that examining the miniature allows for discerning historical interpretations that present Yusuf as a theophany.
“No Journey is Possible Outside of the Heart:” The Story of King Lavaṇa in Bedil’s Muḥīṭ-i Aʿẓam / Hajnalka Kovacs
The Muḥīṭ-i Aʿẓam (“The Greatest Ocean,” 1667) is the first of four long narrative poems by Mirza ʿAbd al-Qadir Bedil (1644-1720), perhaps the foremost representative of the Indian style of Persian poetry. In this mystico-philosophical poem, composed in the form of saqinamah (poem to the cupbearer), Bedil describes how the pre-eternal divine essence comes, like wine, into fermentation and results in the creation of the universe through a stage-by-stage ‘outpouring,’ or emanation. In the eight chapters of the poem, called “dawrs,” or rounds, theUnity of Being behind the multiplicity of the phenomena is described with the symbolism of wine within the framework of the conventions of the saqinamah genre.
Of the illustrative stories and anecdotes that intersperse the poem the longest is the Story of the King and the Wooden Horse, a story that originates in the Hindu popular-religious text Yogavasishtha. Composing in an era when Persian translations of Hindu texts were readily available and poets of Persian were increasingly turning to indigenous Indic literary and religious traditions for subject matter for their compositions, Bedil’s choice for the story of King Lavana is not as unusual as the way he appropriates it to the conventions of the saqinamah genre and the conceptual framework of Ibn Arabi’s metaphysics that underlies the poem. In this paper I analyze Bedil’s poetic reworking of the story of King Lavana against the larger context of the Muḥīṭ-i Aʿẓam. I show that while both in the Muḥīṭ-i Aʿẓam and the Yogavasistha, the story of King Lavana is meant to illustrate the ontological connection between the heart, imagination, and the phenomenal world, in the saqinamah context the emphasis is on transcending the limited self and the phenomenal world through ecstasy, and not through knowledge, as in the Yogavasistha.
Naqshbandīyya and Counter-Insurgency in the Eighteenth Century: The Asrār of ʿAbd al-Ṣamad Khān / Hasan Siddiqui
A Traditionist’s Counsel to the Mughal Emperor: ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq Dihlavī’s Risāla-yi Nūrīya-yi Sulṭānīya / Usman Hamid
Although biographers of the great traditionist, mystic, and historian Shaykh ʿAbd al- Ḥaqq Dihlavī (958-1052/1551-1642) were well aware of his work Risāla-i Nūrīya-i Sulṭānīya, a treatise on political advice addressed to the Mughal emperor Nūr al-Dīn Muḥammad Jahāngīr (r. 1014-37/1605-27), most believed it to have been lost. Despite its discovery and publication, scholars of early modern India have paid little attention to it. This is particularly surprising given the author’s reputation as an Islamic revivalist who distanced himself from the Mughal imperial centre despite having earlier been a courtier. The present study takes the opportunity to redress this neglect by focusing on the Risāla with three aims in mind: the first, to present a detailed overview of some of its important arguments; the second, to locate it within its early Mughal historical context; the third, and the one most closely related to the theme of the present conference, to highlight how the Risāla conformed and deviated from the genre of Perso-Islamic advice literature intended for royal consumption by looking at its uses of rhetorical devices, historical anecdotes, and religious proof-texts. In doing so, I intend to show that the author offered a vision of political culture that was marked by clear borrowings from writings on ethics (akhlāq), but one re-configured specifically to the material and confessional realities of South Asia.
Hujuk And Lies: The World of Satire in Nineteenth-Century Bengal / Debjani Bhattacharyya
This paper examines the aesthetics of lying, swindling and forgery as central themes of literary modernity, especially satires in nineteenth-century Bengal. My analysis focuses on the seminal satirical text of Bengali literary canon Hutum Peynchar Naksha by Kaliprasanna Sinha in order to address the broad question of laughter and falsity. Both historians and literary scholars have mined Sinha’s text for its social commentary on urban life, colonial modernity and literary modernity. I focus on the affective content of the world of Hutum and show that hujuk [transient, fashion or rumor], one of the central concepts in this satire is a modern urban affect intricately linked to the practice of lying. By exploring the aesthetics of lying in the hujuk vignettes I show how Sinha transforms the form of satire through his exposés of urban life as an exercise in lying, and employs notions of inauthenticity and fantasy in order to trouble the larger question of authority, property and work in nineteenth century Bengal.
In his hujuk vignettes Sinha presents a calendrical chronicle of nineteenth-century Calcutta through what I term memory-fragments, each focusing on impostors, charlatans or fantastic stories. In this manner he remembered and narrativizes the city. None of these stories have any kind of serious resolution. What they achieve instead is calling into question the perceived world, and at the same time establishing lies, swindling, transience, and the fragmentary nature of narrative as some of the essential aspects of urban life and literary modernity. Locating Sinha’s text in its critical-historical milieu alongside an engagement with the epistemological space of fiction makes possible a challenging discussion with the mainstream historiography colonial urban modernity and the poetics of writing the city.
From Navya to Ādhunik: Nostalgia and the Various Forms of the Modern in Early 20th Century Bengal / Ahona Panda
“No one there believes that we could be producers of modernity.”– Partha Chatterjee, “Our Modernity”
In this paper, I would like to discuss the idea of a Bengali modernity with reference to Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyaya’s Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road, 1929). I want to situate this text as marking moments of transition from cultures of orality and performance (such as jatra, panchali and kabigan) to print culture and Western modes of textual /literary production, a transition that marks processes of both recovery and loss.
I wish to examine, through an analysis of Bibhutibhushan, how a changing Bengali literary scene negotiated Western literary forms anew, especially because the novel seems a Bildungsroman, and thus deals with the development of character over time. However, the temporality we witness is not a linear/chronological progression of time as seen in European bildungsroman. Instead Bandyopadhyay repeatedly introduces Puranic motifs of cyclical time to understand the complex nature of a Bengali modernity which must necessarily move away from se-kala (a temporally undefined and yet older time) to the e-kala (the present). The historical project of a European bildungsroman and its concern with progress is undermined by, I argue, Bibhutibhushan’s nostalgia for an atemporal Bengal.
This would bring me to the central point of my argument; whether, when we reformulate the definition of modernity in the context of colonial spaces, we can also reconsider terms such as “revivalism” and “nostalgia”? I want to revisit the Bengali debates unfolding in the late 19th century regarding nabyata and adhunikata. Both these terms are synonymous with the modern, but the former defines a modernity guided by Western values, while the latter does not. How did early 20th century Bengal conceptualize a “modern” Bengali literature which was not nabya but adhunik, i.e. a literature that would not be interested in the idea of reform vis-à-vis tradition, but one that would reclaim tradition and yet announce a rupture that was irreparable loss?
Can we therefore reject the understanding of nostalgia as pathology of desire, with its connotations of disease, and make it—in the colonial case—a constructive project? If nostalgia expresses the failure of confidence in processes of modernity, I argue that it is precisely the nostalgic impulse which allows rethinking of different forms of newness. In this sense, Bibhutibhushan is one of the first Bengali writers who abandons the 19th century mantle of the nabya for the 20th century adhunik.
Deadly Punch: Role of Cartoon as a Site of Resistance in the Late Nineteenth Century Colonial India / Sravani Biswas
On October 31st 1876 a deadly cyclone struck the islands at the mouth of Meghna especially the coastal district of Backergunj. While the exact casualty figure is unknown, contemporary administrative records and newspapers estimated the loss of life to be about 200,000. Initially after the calamity, the colonial State showed unprecedented efficiency in documenting the extent of the devastation and attempted to provide rudimentary relief to the victims. However, on 1st January 1877, barely two months after the cyclone, the colonial government organized the lavish Delhi Durbar celebrating the coronation and proclamation of Queen Victoria as the Empress of India. The extravagant display of wealth and power at a time of crisis generated massive public outcry. Both English and vernacular newspaper reports targeted the government, more specifically, Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India and the chief organizer of the grand Durbar. Cartoons accompanied contemporary newspapers reports in popular magazine of humor and satire Punch (London Charivari). The iconic weekly magazine inspired the publication of a number of magazines with the same title from different Indian cities. This paper engages with the cartoons published in Punch between November 1876 and March 1877. It situates the Great Backergunj cyclone of 1876 and the Delhi Durbar of 1877 within this rich body of cartoon literature to explore the role played by cartoons as a medium to generate public awareness and, also, as a site of resistance in the late nineteenth century. Thus the paper’s overall goal is to explore the connections between contemporary events, especially ‘natural’ disasters and the satirist depiction of the colonial state’s apathy towards the suffering masses.
Maitrīpa’s Amanasikārādhāra, or the How to Not Pay Attention / Davey Tomlinson
The work of the 11th century Indian siddha-philosopher Maitrīpa (aka Advayavajra/ Avadhūtipāda) represents in microcosm Indo-Tibetan struggles between scholastic and esoteric forms of knowledge. According to an 11th century biography, Maitrīpa was brought up with a sophisticated Brahmanical and Sanskritic education before being converted to Buddhism relatively late in life. He was subsequently educated in Buddhist philosophy by the best of his day till the age of fifty, when a dream of Tārā led him out of the university and into the mountains. Several dreams later, he met a certain Śabara who instructed him in Tantric thought and, after practicing extreme asceticism in the mountains and nearly killing himself out of despair for his failures, he received initiation in a vision. Śabara quickly broke the news to him, however: true realization was not going to come to Maitrīpa in his lifetime; rather, he should spend the rest of his days publishing philosophy, spreading the esoteric teachings he’d learned in the mountains to the scholastic, Sanskritic culture he’d grown up in. Such was the contemporary story, which underwent various augments as it was transmitted to Tibet (e.g. the famed (but likely fictional) clash with the scholastic par excellence in the Tibetan imagination, Atiśa). By focusing on a particular text—Maitrīpa’s Amanasikārādhāra—I will show the plausibility of such a narrative, or of its themes at least. Maitrīpa is indeed fluent in the scholastic idiom of his day, giving analyses of compounds with Paninian accuracy, sophisticated analyses of forms of grammatical negation, as well as creative niruktis of his central concepts. The ease with which he inhabits this idiom is all the more marked given the unpopularity amongst scholastics (since Kamalaśīla at least) of the idea that the lack of mental activity (amanasikāra) can lead to enlightenment. After contextualizing his work on amanasikāra within both his other works and the philosophical thought of his day, I’ll suggest that the form his Amanasikārādhāra takes is a conscious confrontation with scholasticism, one that would have a lasting influence in Tibet.
Narrative Explanation and Anthologization in South Asian Buddhist Literature / Justin Fifield
Anthologization is an important facet of Buddhist narrative literature that, I argue, sheds light on ethical formation and practice. Anthologies are created using a variety of narrative frames. In one common frame, the Buddha is asked to explain why something happened in a particular way. For instance, in the Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā, monks ask how a leprous monk named Pus-Limb Tissa was able to become awakened. The implication is that someone with this hideous disease, which is graphically described, couldn’t possibly be ripe for awakening. Real events are in tension with a normative worldview and need explanation.
The Buddha responds by telling stories of the past. These stories show that present events are the result of past events, involving the same characters in previous lives. Causality is established on the basis of linear, asymmetrical time. However, the distance in the past is often unimaginable long, weakening the claim of causality. So the appropriate match between past and present, which satisfies the explanation, is established according to a principle of metaphorical repetition, which has “rupalogical” and “dharmalogical” dimensions (Strong 1979).
There is, therefore, an interweaving of linear and repetitive time. As Collins (1992) argues, the interweaving of different modalities of time in Buddhist literature – linear time, repetitive time, and the time of reading – creates a coherent worldview and view of the self for the reader to appropriate. Narrative explanation, I will argue, creates coherency by showing that events and personal “destinies” work according to complex, but generally predictable patterns. Predictability derives, in part, from ethical practice. Anthologization is a second-order repetition that creates patterns from the amalgamation of numerous “case-studies,” building up a common sense notion of how the world works at scales of time closer to geological than human time, but the scale at which Buddhist ethical practice obtains meaning and significance.
Collins, S. (1992). “Nirvāṇa, Time, and Narrative.” History of Religions 31(3): 215-246.
Strong, J. (1979). “Transforming Gift: An analysis of devotional acts of offering in Buddhist Avadāna literature.” History of Religions 18(3): 221-237.
From Hagiography to History: the Place of the Tażkirah in Literary Criticism / Alexander Jabbari
The tazkirah is a type of biography or collection of biographical notices about poets, scholars, and Sufi mystics. Typically hagiographical in nature, it is primarily a ‘pre-modern’ genre of writing and has largely been supplanted by ‘modern’ literary histories based on European models. This paper examines the use of tazkirahs as sources for early modern literary histories composed in Urdu and Persian. In it, I focus especially on Shiʻr al-ʻAjam (“Poetry of the Persians”), one of the earliest ‘modern’ histories of Persian literature, written in Urdu by the Indian Islamic scholar Shiblī Nuʻmānī. I analyze Shiblī’s selection of tazkirahs from both South Asian as well as Iranian authors as sources, and consider how he differed in his selection and use of tazkirahs from his contemporaries in Iran, due to the influence of the South Asian context on his thought and writing. In particular, I contrast Shiblī with the Iranian scholar Muhammad-Taqī Bahār ‘Malik al-Shuʻarā’ and his history of Persian literature, Sabkshināsī (“Stylistics”). Through exploring how pre-modern artifacts like tazkirahs are refashioned and become sources for modern historical writing, I hope to capture one aspect of the hybrid modernity generated by South Asian litterateurs in response to colonialism, and to problematize the division between the pre-modern and the early modern.
Changes in the Space of the Mushāʿirah 1874-1950 / M. A. Ahmad Khan
The paper will attempt to illustrate the changing role of the musha’irah, or poetic symopsium, as a public space in North India between 1874 and 1950. From the ‘closed’ space of the musha’irahs patronised by the Mughal court which was, in a sense, a space dedicated and restricted to poets, to the musha’irahs organised by the Anjuman-e Punjab in Lahore in 1874 and then the various musha’irahs organised by the Congress Party and the Progressive Writers Movement in the 20th century, which ‘opened-up’ the space to an audience, this literary space will be used to examine the public role of poetry. This will also permit us to view the musha’irah as a vehicle to understand, broadly speaking, the qualitative changes that this produced in poetry and poets.
Specifically, the paper will seek to highlight how physical changes took place, within our period, in the space of the musha’irah and how this reflected the changing economic, political and social landscape of North India. One interesting aspect that will be explored is the role of new technology on the space of the musha’irah. This will facilitate a discussion of how the space of the musha’irah and indeed the different ways in which it was conceived, was appropriated or used by, amongst others, the colonial government, local elites, literary organisations and political movements. Furthermore this will also allow for a discussion of how the changes in the space of a musha’irah can, perhaps, be seen as part of a broader development of a public sphere.
A number of sources will be drawn upon to illustrate arguments and highlight the ways in which changes took place in the space of the musha’irah. Journals, magazines, newspapers, private diaries, pamphlets and other primary sources will be used.
Solidarity, Exile, and Longing from Pakistan to Palestine: Faiẓ Aḥmad Faiẓ and Mahmoud Darwish in Beirut, 1982 / Francesca Chubb-Confer
This paper will focus on a historical moment in which two of the most acclaimed modern poets of Urdu and Arabic – Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mahmoud Darwish – worked together for the literary magazine Lotus while in exile in Beirut in the early 1980s. Through close readings of poetry composed in this period, I will examine the ways in which both poets dealt with the themes of suffering, loss, exile, and the mapping of political and religious solidarities between the oppressed populations of Palestine and Pakistan. How do Palestine and Pakistan function in this poetry as geo-political entities that are transformed into deeply personal landscapes of suffering? How does the experience of exile inform the ways in which both Faiz and Darwish reimagine their respective homelands in their poetry? What are the ways in which religious, political, and poetic vocabularies are layered in order to produce emotional solidarities between disparate regions and languages? Under particular consideration will be the ways in which Faiz, among other modern Urdu poets, takes up the Palestinian cause in his work as a symbol for resistance which, while drawing inspiration from Arab motifs and poetic expressions, is refracted through the vocabulary and imagery of Urdu poetic tropes to evoke the emotive sensibilities of an Urdu-speaking audience. Finally, I will locate the emergence of these Urdu writings on Palestine within the context of the development of leftist anti-imperialist literatures in South Asia that sought to critique and destabilize dictatorial regimes.
The Prejudice of Place in Literature: Resituating Faiẓ Aḥmad Faiẓ’s “Communist” Poetry in its “Locale” / Taimoor Shahid
Much critical discourse on modern (postcapital and postcolonial) South Asian literature employs methods which reduce so-called “third-world” literature to a political program, namely, the unfolding of a universal modernity in the world. Dipesh Chakrabarty, among others, has critiqued the very idea of a universal modernity by demonstrating its European origins and its inadequacy for grasping complex and heterogenous modernities outside of Europe. These heterogeneous modernities, I contend, can be reflected as Gadamerian prejudice in critical thought since all critical thought remains tied to the place.
Taking this as my point of departure I examine the work of Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984), the premier Urdu poet who was the leading icon of the Progressive Writers Movement (1930s-50s) and a member of the Communist Party associated with Soviet-Russia (1930s-60s). Most scholarship on Faiz reads him through a Eurocentric lens as merely “progressive,” “secular,” “Marxist/Communist,” “postcolonial,” “revolutionary,” etc. I take issue with these readings by striving to locate him within the classical Urdu literary tradition. I argue that his poetry is rooted in his “locale,” his place, through premodern enchanted genealogies which can be traced to the Qur’an, Islamic lore, and the classical Arabo-Persian ghazal tradition, none of which can be confined within the framework of a secular, disenchanted, postcolonial modernity. The traditional in his poetry defies the false universalism of unadapted Western categories of sociohistorical analysis mentioned above. Secondly, the use of these historicist categories is limiting in another sense: by assuming a simplistic one-to-one relation between the imaginative world of poetry and the experiential sphere of the poet’s life, it restricts the text’s interpretation to one meaning and flattens the traditional and inherent semiotic multiplicity of Faiz’s poems. Through close contentual readings, and the use of Urdu literary analytic categories like ma‘nī-āfrīnī (theme-creation) for analysis, I question the current place of his poetry in criticism by reclaiming its non-Western genealogies and its meaning- engendering autonomy, both of which get lost in the haze of a Eurocentric sociological excavation of his poetry.