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1230748 South Asian Literature as World Literature: Issues of Recognition, Reception and Resistance

Chandra Mohan,University of Delhi (

The subject for a special panel in the forthcoming ICLA Congress 2019 at Macau during 29 July-02 August, 2019.

Concept Note

The scholars of the panel with first-hand knowledge of South Asian social and cultural terrains, will critically evaluate the canon and its continuing relevance, while taking note of emerging trends in various literary genres, films, theatre and theoretical studies. The studies undertaken will lead us to a better understanding of the region in the context of the fast-paced globalization of the region.

The subject for the forthcoming ICLA Congress 2019 has been chosen with a view to study the implications of globalization of culture from multiple perspectives. In what sense can “South Asian Literature” be described as “World Literature”? Needless to say, ‘world literature’ is a contested term with its own ideological baggage. By juxtaposing it with ‘South Asian Literature’ we intend to problematize its multiple trajectories and highlight the irreducible plurality as a condition that defines the South Asian literary context.

South Asia is home to almost one third of the world languages. Written literature emerged in some of the South Asian languages long before it made its appearance in other parts of the world. Hence several of modern Indian languages such as Bengali, Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Urdu, Punjabi, Marathi and Malayalam are to be seen as ‘world languages’. Besides, most of the so-called ‘world languages’ such as English, French, Chinese, Persian and Arabic have a strong presence in many parts of South Asia. Major works have also been composed in these languages by South Asian authors. In that sense, South Asia constitutes a pluralistic world with no parallel in the rest of the continents. Any literary history of South Asia will have to explore the implications of multilingualism and inter-textuality between several languages before a working model can be evolved.  

While studying the spread of Sanskrit across South Asia, Sheldon Pollock speaks of the ‘Sanskrit Cosmopolis’. He finds a parallel between the emergence of modern European languages in the wake of the Renaissance and the flourishing of modern Indian languages in the second millennium. This process of ‘vernacularisation’ is a phenomenon which needs to be studied in a comparative context to understand the nature of ‘modernity’ that has reshaped our worlds in the past five hundred years. Pollock’s limiting idea of ‘vernacularisation’ seen through a Euro-centric lens needs to be unpacked to render it productive from a South Asian point of view. The role of Bhakti, Sant and Sufi movements in the formation of modern South Asian languages can only be fully understood only when it is seen from a broad comparative context. 

South Asia has contributed four major religious philosophies to the world namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The cosmopolitan, universal vision embodied in the teachings of these religions impart a unique philosophical depth to the literary and artistic traditions of South Asia. These religions have also assimilated the best teachings of other religions from the rest of the world. One should remember that both Christianity and Islam have had a strong presence across South Asia for centuries. They have greatly influenced the course of our cultural history, shaping new forms of expression and modes of thought. ‘Sufism’ has influenced poetry and music in many regions of South Asia. It is important to ‘recognize’ South Asia as a ‘world of thought’ with its own unique vocabulary of experience and expression as demonstrated by its intertextual relations between story-telling, poetry, painting, dance and sculpture. The sense of the sacred that informs many of its literary traditions does not preclude the secular in a modern sense. Hence there is much to be debated in the transactions between religion as practice, lived reality and moral philosophy.  

South Asia enters the world at large as a political and cultural phenomenon also through its diaspora. The languages of South Asia have travelled beyond its borders, creating creolized cultures and diasporic communities all over the world. South Asian academics in the premier institutions of the West have contributed to critical and literary theory in a substantial manner in the last half century. Disciplines like postcolonial studies, translation studies and film studies would be unthinkable without their participation. If “all literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin, either in translation or in the original” can be seen as “world literature” (David Demrosch ), South Asian literature has been  ‘world literature’ from its very inception. The manner of circulation of Jataka tales, Manimekhalai, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and many more similar works merits serious discussion.

We would like the delegates to take up issues of recognition, reception and resistance in particular. What are the factors that prevent the recognition of South Asian literatures and their significance in contemporary world? Questions of major and minor languages are relevant, but the politics of globalization and the prevalence of Euro-centric narratives that constitute ‘world literature’ are equally responsible. While considering the reception of South Asian literature in the rest of the world, it is also relevant to study how European, American, African and Latin American Literatures have been received in South Asia. There are questions of selective appropriation and exclusivist positions that need to be explored here. 

It is obvious that there are many topics and issues to discuss. The following are some of the sub-themes that may be addressed in your abstracts:

1.   Pluralism, polyphony and heteroglossia in South Asian Culture

2.   Transcultural/ Transnational in South Asian Writing

3.   The Major, the minor and the marginal in South Asian Writing

4.   Historicising ‘Vernacularisation’ from South Asian perspectives

5.   Literary Historiography in South Asia

6.   Religious and Secular Imaginaries in South Asian Literature

7.   Popular vs Elite in the literary culture of South Asia

8.   Translation and Intertextuality across South Asian cultures

9.   Literature of the South Asian Diaspora

10. South Asian theatre and films: Innovations and achievements

The Planetary and the Global: Towards a New World Literature in the Anthropocene
Prasad Pannian

This paper explores the imagination of a people in Kasaragod, a district in Kerala, India which has been affected by the areal spray of a pesticide called endosulfan from 1975 to 2000. Those who have been affected by this pesticide had visulaised a miniature spectacle of extinction that awakened them to a shared sense of catastrophe. This shared sense of catestrophe in a way inspires a different kind of “species thinking” or planetary imagination that opens up the possibility of rethinking World Literature in the era of Antrhopocene. Keeping this as a predominant running strand, this paper analyses the endosulfan narratives with a special focus on Enmakaje written by Ambikasuthan Mangad against the backdrop of the discourses on toxic bodies and corporate poisons. Borrowing ideas from the writings of Dipesh Chakrabarty, Jane Bennet and Rox Nixon, the paper would explore the contours of “species thinking” in Endosulfan narratives in the era of Anthropocene. By way of doing this, the paper also demonstrates how human, non-human and the object world reciprocally affect each other during the slow violence of endosulfan in Kasaragod. Looking into the agentic contribution of nonhuman forces in the narratives as an attempt to counter the narcissistic reflex of human language and thought, these narratives provide ample scope to seize hold of a New Humanism in moments of dangers such as Globalization and Global Warming. This paper thus argues that a new humanist worldly imagination deployed in regional works of art such as Enmakaje can represent the New World Literature from the Global South. While human beings self-consciously occupy the era of the Anthropocene, this new mode of World Literature prompts us to reflect on the place of the humans in the history and world. Therefore, in order to ‘worlding’ the earth that we inhabit, we need to expand the realm of the human with our affective intensities and onto-sympathies towards the non-human and the object world so as to reprehend our geological agency and rethink a New World Literature.

Abstracts may be sent to Prof. Chandra Mohan and Prof. E.V.Ramakrishnan who are coordinators of the Research Group, at the following email addresses: - and


Congress Date
29 July- 2 August 2019

Abstract Submission Deadline

1 March 2019

Online Registration Deadline

20 July 2019

On-site Registration Date

29 July 2019

Dates du congrès  
29 Juillet-2 aout 2019

Envoie des notes 

jusqu’au 1er mars 2019

Inscription en ligne 

jusqu’au 20 juillet 2019

Inscription sur place 

jusqu’au 29 juillet 2019