Does the phrase “English Studies” connote something greater than its so-called destiny as originally intended in a colonial framework? Can we imagine an English literary and language “community” outside the history of canon formation intertwined with the history of colonialism? The function of English in a nation-state such as India constituting many ‘nations’ and bound by a sense of Indianness—again an offshoot of anti-colonial politics of resistance—is certain to be entrapped in a liminal space where identities are at best fluid and in a state of flux. On the one hand, it professes loyalty to the Shakespeares, the Miltons and the Dr. Johnsons with the idea of reaching out to a forever "uncontaminated" space unaffected by the politics of the present. On the other hand, it seeks to engage with a version of the canon based on interpretations generated within specific cultural milieus such as the Caribbean writer Derek Walcott’s Omeros, the epic rereading of Homer’s Odyssey, and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Teheran: A Memoir in Books—the latter in a more popular vein. Frederick Jameson argues that “[a]ll third-world texts . . . in a very specific way . . . are to be read as . . . national allegories.” Are "we" in the non-western worlds creating “national allegories” in the process of rereading/misreading the canon?
In the enigmatic text “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Walter Benjamin notes that “[t]here is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth.” The global usage of English with a fetishized language component is more and more inclined towards a sterile emphasis on communication devoid of the literary and cultural dimension. The cultural understanding of English language and literature is equally nebulous, lost in contradictions that emerge from the “secret agreement between past generations and the present one.”
The aim of this conference is to discuss the problems and prospects in unveiling the “secret agreement” between the colonial past and the postcolonial present. In post-independence India, English education often tends to valorize with a dint of hidden irony the literature of Anglo-America, the roots of which may be traced to hegemonic agendas behind the introduction of English language and literature during the British rule. The interest in non-canonical texts in the wake of the advent of interdisciplinary studies has confined canonical studies to a position where departments of English award degrees without any required courses on Chaucer or Shakespeare. This conference proposes to problematize the anxieties of influence that go into the making of canons of English literature and to examine their plausible relevance to the present. Cultural materialists, political psychologists and literary theorists have engagingly looked at literature as part of an intertextual space reaching out to the ethos that produced it. With the arrival of Postmodernism/ Poststructuralism/ Postcolonialism the historicity and politics of a canonical text have become apparent making one wonder if “[o]ur coming was expected on earth.” In the process of revisiting the contours of English Studies this conference aspires to rekindle interest in what constitutes canons in view of a corporate global economy with a declared antipathy to conventional notions of the nation-state. At the same time, the sense of belonging that literary and cultural histories and historians have given the believer is threatened at a fundamental level.
Are canons based on imagined communities or are they relics of a feudal colonial past irrelevant to the present? Is the arrival of discourses such as postmodernism an “expected one”, well within the parameters of the conventional understanding of the canon? What is the shape of a future literary and cultural history given the power big publishers wield over the reading market? What kind of power relations along with languages of resistances can we expect in the emerging political economies of the future as embodied in literary texts? What role does literature and cultural studies, intensely isolated from mainstream disciplines, play in sustaining the idea of counter canon paradoxically bringing past writers into the present? This conference provides more questions than are likely to be answered in any conclusive manner. The debate on “revisiting the contours” is expected to generate a dialogue that responds to the transformative role of English Studies in creating arguments that bring a cautiously interpreted past into a redefined future.
Papers may broadly revolve around the following areas:
English Studies: Its Past, Present and Future
Towards Definitions of Culture and its Others
Translating the Un-translatable
Comparison as a Framework of Literary Thought
Canonizing the Subaltern
Literary Studies as Figurative Languages
Idioms of Multiculturalism
The Hyphen (-) As a Site of the Intertext
Transgressing Disciplinary Borders
Problematizing Research Methodologies
Art, Politics and Styles of Writing
Narrating the Histories of Words
Scholars are encouraged to submit papers that are densely analytical and not limited to fact-gathering and data assortment. Each presenter will be allowed 15 minutes presentation time and five minutes for a question and answer session. Abstracts of not more than 300 words must be sent by 10 October 2012 to firstname.lastname@example.org for being considered. Acceptance will be intimated by 15 October 2012.
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