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Literary Cultures in History

Reconstructions from South Asia

Sheldon Pollock

Publication Year: 2003

A grand synthesis of unprecedented scope, Literary Cultures in History is the first comprehensive history of the rich literary traditions of South Asia. Together these traditions are unmatched in their combination of antiquity, continuity, and multicultural complexity, and are a unique resource for understanding the development of language and imagination over time. In this unparalleled volume, an international team of renowned scholars considers fifteen South Asian literary traditions—including Hindi, Indian-English, Persian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Urdu—in their full historical and cultural variety.

The volume is united by a twofold theoretical aim: to understand South Asia by looking at it through the lens of its literary cultures and to rethink the practice of literary history by incorporating non-Western categories and processes. The questions these seventeen essays ask are accordingly broad, ranging from the character of cosmopolitan and vernacular traditions to the impact of colonialism and independence, indigenous literary and aesthetic theory, and modes of performance. A sophisticated assimilation of perspectives from experts in anthropology, political science, history, literary studies, and religion, the book makes a landmark contribution to historical cultural studies and to literary theory in addition to the new perspectives it offers on what literature has meant in South Asia.

(Available in South Asia from Oxford University Press--India)

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

List of Contributors

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xx

...research proposal consciously designed to implement a new practice of scholarship in the service of new historiographical and theoretical objectives. The new practice required intensive, long-term collaboration among specialists in a range of regional and transregional literary traditions, while the new objectives entailed rethinking some basic presuppositions of literary history as it has been practiced for generations...

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Guide to Pronunciation

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pp. xxi-xxxvi

...Sounds marked with diacritics in the book that have more of an orthographic than a phonetic significance in South Asia (e.g., Persian } or /, which are pronounced as English z and t respectively) are ignored in this guide. Conversely, some distinctions made in pronunciation but rarely represented in orthography are merely noted here...

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pp. 1-36

...South Asia is essential to our understanding of human culture. It is a complex world, to be sure. Its languages are difficult, often made intentionally so, and its forms can sometimes appear fantastic. But like the king in the story, if we ignore it, we risk losing something precious and irreplaceable. This is the conviction that animates this book: that the literatures of South Asia constitute one of the great achievements of human creativity. In their antiquity, continuity, and multicultural...


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1. Sanskrit Literary Culture from the Inside Out

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pp. 39-130

...In contrast to most other literary cultures examined in this book, Sanskrit literature has a long and deep tradition of scholarship. A serious attempt at a comprehensive account appeared by the middle of the nineteenth century, and today many single- and multi-volume histories are available.1Without the foundation this impressive body of work provides, the historical study of Sanskrit literature would be hard...

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2. The Culture and Politics of Persian in Precolonial Hindustan

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pp. 131-198

...Persian has been an integral part of South Asian culture, and the life of northern India (or Hindustan) in particular, for centuries. Recognizing and appreciating the marks of Persian influence, though these are perhaps less visible today than they were in, say, 1800, are nevertheless crucial for understanding northern Indian literary and political culture. The same is true, if to a lesser degree, for other parts of India, though some regions, such as the Deccan, were also considerably...

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3. The Historical Formation of Indian-English Literature

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pp. 199-268

...Din Muhammad had emigrated from India a decade earlier at the age of twenty-five, probably had converted to the established Protestant church in Ireland shortly afterward, and had married a young woman from the Anglo-Irish gentry. At the time he wrote his book, he lived in Cork in comfortable financial circumstances, supporting his wife and children by working as a domestic supervisor on a large estate. His marriage as well as his employment...


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4. Three Moments in the Genealogy of Tamil Literary Culture

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pp. 271-322

...This essay focuses on a few key moments in the genealogy of Tamil literary culture that are described and enacted in, respectively, (1) the autobiography of the great textual scholar and editor U.Ve. Caminataiyar (1855–1942), which treats approximately the first half of his life; (2) histories of Tamil literature that emerged as a genre of scholarship...

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5. Critical Tensions in the History of Kannada Literary Culture

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pp. 323-382

...The “originary” moment that scholars have posited with Halmidi should be viewed in the context of a broader discussion of the relationships between writing, literarization, and inscriptions. In the context of premodern Kannada—to be precise, the archaic period between the fifth and tenth centuries—these three among themselves had come to constitute a certain kind of organic unity. Inscriptions were the first document of the public sphere available in the geocultural region...

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6. Multiple Literary Cultures in Telugu: Court, Temple, and Public

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pp. 383-436

...History presupposes a narrative, a story of a process motivated by a causality. And as we have come to realize, such a story sometimes creates the object it purports to merely describe. There was no such a thing as “Telugu literature” as we now understand it before literary historians produced its history in the early decades of the twentieth century for the purpose of teaching it in colleges or to fill a perceived...

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7. Genre and Society: The Literary Culture of Premodern Kerala

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pp. 437-500

...This essay rethinks aspects of the literary culture of premodern Kerala through anthropological reflection on the social and pragmatic contexts in which those genres of textual practices we today call Malayalam literature were apparently produced. I characterize my project in this way because the Kerala materials I survey have led me to reconsider some of the basic assumptions of existing literary histories. Therefore...


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8. The Two Histories of Literary Culture in Bengal

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pp. 503-566

...A general reading of the history of a particular literature requires, first of all, a principle of organization. Histories of Bangla literature usually offer a narrative of continuity: they seek to show, quite legitimately, how the literary culture develops through successive stages—how literary works of one period become the stock on which later stages carry out their productive operations. These studies are less interested in asking how literary mentalities come to be transformed or how...

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9. From Hemacandra to Hind Svarāj: Region and Power in Gujarati Literary Culture

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pp. 567-611

...written in Sanskrit, Prakrit, or Apabhramsha. Hemacandra was following a convention as old as the beginnings of Indian literary culture, which held that literature should only be composed in these transregional languages.1 Eight centuries later, in 1960, the State of Gujarat was founded by an act of the Parliament of India. Although this act of law was instrumental, the real power base of this new formation...

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10. At the Crossroads of Indic and Iranian Civilizations: Sindhi Literary Culture

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pp. 612-646

...On account of its unique geographical position as a buffer zone between the Indic and the Iranian-Arab worlds, Sindh has been a place where different cultures have met and interacted with each other for many centuries. Consequently, its literary culture is characterized by convergences: between oral and written genres and forms, and between different languages, literatures, alphabets, scripts, systems of prosody, grammatical...


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11. What Is Literature in Pali?

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pp. 649-688

...But first, some scene setting. Pali is a form of Middle Indo-Aryan, with features deriving from the Vedic language which preceded classical Sanskrit (Old Indo-Aryan), as classified by the grammarian Panini in the fourth century b.c.e. It developed from a northwestern Indian dialect, but its extant form cannot have coincided with any spoken language, since there are elements of deliberate Sanskritization, including forms which could not have occurred historically in a speech...

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12. Works and Persons in Sinhala Literary Culture

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pp. 689-746

...Throughout history the number of Sinhala speakers has been small in comparison to speakers of languages like Hindi, Bangla, or Tamil, and the space in which Sinhala has been used has always been small in comparison to that for languages like Sanskrit, Persian, or Pali. This is hardly surprising, because the use of Sinhala as a language has been restricted almost exclusively to the island of Sri Lanka, a small part of the South...

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13. The Indian Literary Identity in Tibet

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pp. 747-802

...The Tibetan language and its literature are at once both of and alien to South Asia. Among the other languages whose literary cultures are considered in this book, Tibetan resembles Persian and English in this respect. Though this comparison is limited, it does underscore two important points: First, from the perspective of language and literature (and much else besides), “South Asia” is not an entirely well-formed...


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14. A Long History of Urdu Literary Culture, Part 1: Naming and Placing a Literary Culture

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pp. 805-863

...Using the term “early Urdu” is not without its risks. “Urdu” as a language name is of comparatively recent origin, and the question of what was or is early Urdu has long since passed from the realm of history, first into the colonialist constructions of the history of Urdu/Hindi, and then into the political and emotional space of Indian...

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15. A Long History of Urdu Literary Culture, Part 2: Histories, Performances, and Masters

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pp. 864-911

...A typical notebook would include some verses by its owner and others by poets living and dead, both Persian and Urdu. More serious—or more organized—students might compile notebooks devoted only to certain kinds of poetry: to the work of living poets, for example, or the finest poets, or poets from a particular city, or women poets, or poets in a certain genre. There were a great many occasional poets, but only a few...

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16. The Progress of Hindi, Part 1: The Development of a Transregional Idiom

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pp. 912-957

...This chapter considers the role played by literary culture in defining a north Indian cultural identity that can be seen today as both regional and participating in India’s wider culture. What is this role, and how has it been played? How have literary forms, styles, themes, and languages been perceived, and how have they been employed to express societal concerns and cultural values? In addressing these and...

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17. The Progress of Hindi, Part 2: Hindi and the Nation

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pp. 958-1022

...The current preeminence of Hindi among the modern Indian languages is a phenomenon of surprisingly recent growth and represents a dramatic change in its fortunes. Until about a hundred years ago, Hindi was commonly perceived to be an underdeveloped and underprivileged language, fragmented into several competing dialects...


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pp. 1023-1066

Production Notes

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p. 1104-1104

E-ISBN-13: 9780520926738
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520228214

Page Count: 1105
Publication Year: 2003