- Thinking Thinking Literature Across Continents Across Generations
When we were first invited to write on Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller's coauthored Thinking Literature across Continents, we thought a book that "juxtaposes views of literature by two scholars"1 might merit its own juxtaposed views in turn. This forum, of course, offers just such a juxtaposition, but in what follows, we attempt something additional. We take up Ghosh's aspiration that the "book's being [be] its becoming"2 by writing ourselves into it, by becoming implicated "in the across."3 For us, the most adequate response to Ghosh–Miller's book "about enacting a communication"4 has been to (re) enact a communication, to dialogue in response to a dialogue, to take up what Ghosh and Miller perform as "thinking across continents" by thinking across in turn, here across generations. Thinking Literature across Continents unfolds in five sections on "The Matter and Mattering of Literature," "Poem and Poetry," "Literature and the World," "Teaching Literature," and "Ethics and Literature." In each section, each author has his say (first Ghosh, then Miller, always in that order). Our sections do not correspond exactly to those in Thinking Literature across Continents (TLAC), but they attempt to take up their primary themes. They are respectively marked with our initials (RTS: Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan; RR: R. Radhakrishnan), but it is fair to say that we are both here, throughout: "Our positions and transpositions belong to us and to the other."5 [End Page 921]
I. RTS: Intentions
In his final chapter in Thinking Literature across Continents, Ranjan Ghosh proposes that an ethical relation to literature, what he terms "the ethics of reading sahitya," demands a critical awareness of how sahitya (which is and is other than literature) manifests and registers the entanglements of thoughts and "things in their independence," "the mind and the body," the "extraordinary" and the ordinary, material conditions of its production.6 Ghosh uses the language of "copresence," "entanglement," and "coconstitutive enactments" to describe what I take to be for him the nature of literature's belonging (as opposed to being) in the world.7 He gives the example of the speeding up of writing and intensification of concentration brought on by a computer losing charge. If I have only five minutes to type out what I think, I will think it in five minutes, and it will be a different thought than it would have been in ten.
Here, I write in anticipation of Radha (as he is known to friends and colleagues), in anticipation of a voice that has been critical to my own thinking, a voice of and from another generation. If a generation is "all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively," and, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definitions continue, "generally considered to be about thirty years," then Radha and I, though we share genealogical and geographical origins and destinations in South India and the United States, respond to this text (and others) across a generational gap productive of different relations to theory (for instance, the "deconstruction" which Miller playfully disavows in his introductory chapter), to language (when I read Ghosh's Sanskrit, I hear the derivative Malayalam, and I hear it in my grandmother's voice), and undoubtedly to literature as well. Having recently earned my PhD from a department of Rhetoric, I recognize Miller's charge that "old-fashioned literary studies" has been substituted with "cultural studies."8 I, unlike Radha, resemble the remark.
"Generation" is not a term offered by Ghosh–Miller but, as I have already begun to suggest, its concerns are immanent in the text. Miller contrasts his formative years as a scholar at Johns Hopkins University (1953–1972) with a "now" that he reads as "a time of desktop computers, the Internet, iPhones, iPads, DVDs, MP3s, Facebook, Twitter, Google, video games by the thousand, television, and a global film industry."9 His chapters bear the traces of that evident generational disjuncture, which conditions his view of literature's digital itineraries as a "magic transformation."10 I am reminded of David Scott's elaboration of the "generational" as...