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Title:Translingual nostalgias in modern Sanskrit and Indian poetry in English
Author(s):Nelson, Matthew
Director of Research:Hassan, Waïl S.; Pandharipande, Rajeshwari
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hassan, Waïl S.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Mehta, Rini; Rothberg, Michael
Department / Program:Comparative & World Literature
Discipline:Comparative Literature
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Indian Literature in English
Modern Sanskrit
Postcolonial Poetry
Abstract:My dissertation finds postcolonial studies hampered by a narrow and misleading conception of nostalgia. Part of a broad set of European ideas about time and its passing, nostalgia arrived in the colonies first as a genre—proto-nationalist veneration of a supposed “golden age”—and later as a way of understanding that genre. That understanding focused on the metaphysics of nostalgia’s desired object, finding it flawed. Because of this metaphysical focus and its limitations, what might have been a contingent critique of genre was generalized to include all forms of affective attachment to the past. Two consequences followed: postcolonial authors developed genres of decontextualized wrestling with nostalgia, and postcolonial critics missed or dismissed non-metaphysical modes of nostalgia. To get at what is thus missed, as well as to situate nostalgia more clearly within the affect worlds and genres of South Asia, my dissertation looks to language and translation as crucial sites of nostalgic work. This focus leads me away from the novel genre—postcolonial scholarship’s usual focus—towards South Asian poetry, which maintains a more active multilingualism and a greater continuity with local tradition. My dissertation begins by charting the genealogy of the nostalgia concept, from its Enlightenment origins to its use by postcolonial critics. Chapter 1 argues that the original work of A. K. Ramanujan represents, in the form of what I call nostalgic shame poems, a generic fulfillment of the postcolonial critique of nostalgia. Part of a wider body of works concerned with the status of homelands, Ramanujan’s nostalgic shame poems rehearse the inaccessibility of the past. By contrast, his translations suggest a more productive form of nostalgia that is unworried by absolutes. Reading the translations of Ramanujan’s poet-translator peers, Arun Kolatkar and Arvind Mehrotra, Chapter 2 argues that their generation contested and reshaped,through their translingual nostalgias, the subcontinental aesthetics of English. Chapter 3 then provides a theoretical grounding for my literary-historical claims by turning to Agha Shahid Ali, whose attempts to write Urdu ghazal poetry in English uniquely evince nostalgia’s inventive, non-dogmatic side. Finally, Chapter 4 turns to the linguistic pole furthest from English in the Indian nationalist imagination: Sanskrit. Contrary to popular perception, Modern Sanskrit continues to produce an ample but vastly understudied body of literature that invites us to rethink familiar debates about South Asian multilingualism as well as nostalgia. My dissertation closes by proposing that the pairing of English and Modern Sanskrit suggests that the concepts of language death and vitality map in unexpected ways on these languages, revealing the problematic status of each in a freshly illuminating manner.
Issue Date:2018-04-12
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Matthew Nelson
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-04
Date Deposited:2018-05

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