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Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste

Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste

Toral Jatin Gajarawala

Publication Year: 2012

William Riley Parker Prize for an outstanding article published in PMLA "Some Time between Revisionist and Revolutionary: Unreading History in Dalit Literature" May 2011 issue of PMLA Untouchable Fictions considers the crisis of literary realism--progressive, rural, regionalist, experimental--in order to derive a literary genealogy for the recent explosion of Dalit ("untouchable caste") fiction. Drawing on a wide array of writings from Premchand and Renu in Hindi to Mulk Raj Anand and V. S. Naipaul in English, Gajarawala illuminates the dark side of realist complicity: a hidden aesthetics and politics of caste. How does caste color the novel? What are its formal tendencies? What generic constraints does it produce? Untouchable Fictions juxtaposes the Dalit text and its radical critique with a history of progressive literary movements in South Asia. Gajarawala reads Dalit writing dialectically, doing justice to its unique and groundbreaking literary interventions while also demanding that it be read as an integral moment in the literary genealogy of the 20th and 21st centuries. This book, grounded in the fields of postcolonial theory, South Asian literatures, and cultural studies, makes a crucial intervention into studies of literary realism and will be important for all readers interested in the problematic relations between aesthetics and politics and between social movements and cultural production.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. 7-8

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pp. ix-x

I have dedicated this book to my eldest maternal uncle, Chandrahas Hiralal Shah, professor of agricultural economics, spiritualist, guide, and friend. Motamama, as we affectionately call him, who mingles the Gita and Marx, prefers peanuts to almonds—“the food of the common man”—and reminded...

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Three Burnings: An Introduction

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pp. 1-31

In Dalit literature, everything is metanarrative. Born from the self-consciousness of any literature of radical protest, Dalit (untouchable caste) literature,1 engendered by caste oppression and caste consciousness, occasions a self-reflexivity that works at several levels: language and metaphor, political philosophy...

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1. The Dalit Limit Point: Realism, Representation, and Crisis in Premchand

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pp. 32-67

Modern Hindi literature, it is said, begins with Premchand. The early nineteenth-century writers of Hindi, producing “literature” in an only recently standardized and consolidated “language,” were writing pedagogical treatises, educational texts for students at Fort William College in Calcutta...

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2. Modernism, Marxism, Metaphor: The Origins of a Literary Politics of Particularism

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pp. 68-96

The question of Dalit chetna (consciousness) is the central question of contemporary Dalit literature, a revision of a very old problematic that has haunted the literature of progressivism, social realism, socialist realism, anticolonialism and protest: How does the literary text articulate and propel an explicit...

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3. A Perfect Whole: Knowledge by Transcription and Rural Regionalism

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pp. 97-128

In Dalit sahitya ka saundaryashastra (The Aesthetics of Dalit Literature) Hindi writer and critic Omprakash Valmiki lays out the basic conditions for Dalit chetna, or “Dalit consciousness,” that crucial element for the production of Dalit literature. His list of thirteen items includes Ambedkarism, anti-capitalism...

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4. Casteless Modernities: The Contemporary Anglophone Novel and Its Invisible Interlocutors

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pp. 129-167

In a Dalit autobiography from the 1950s, Hazari’s I Was an Outcaste,1 the narrator writes: “I could not make up my mind, whether to fight for the freedom of India or to fight for the freedom of untouchables from the degradation of the caste system” (92). The Dalit perspective that emerges from the narrative...

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5. Some Time between Revisionist and Revolutionary . . . : Reading History in Dalit Textuality

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pp. 168-196

In one telling moment, the narrator of Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan1 (one of the many Hindi Dalit autobiographies) recalls a Brahmin teacher who has instructed his students to rip out several controversial pages on Dalit history from their school primer. Officially sanctioned by the textbooks...

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Epilogue: Aesthetics and Their Afterlives

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pp. 197-205

Identarian literary movements draw their strength from past ideological failures while being deeply indebted to the cultural politics, and even the forms, of the movements they leave behind. This is in both the Adornian sense of the cultural scars that remain, marring the newness of any artistic project...


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pp. 207-232

Works Cited

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pp. 233-249


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pp. 251-258

E-ISBN-13: 9780823250486
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823245246
Print-ISBN-10: 0823245241

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Text

OCLC Number: 822024945
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Indic literature -- Dalit authors -- History and criticism.
  • Indic fiction -- History and criticism.
  • Realism in literature.
  • Dalits in literature.
  • Caste in literature.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- India.
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