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The Idea of Indian Literature: Gender, Genre, and Comparative Method
by Preetha Mani
Northwestern University Press, 2022
Cloth: 978-0-8101-4500-9 | eISBN: 978-0-8101-4501-6 | Paper: 978-0-8101-4499-6
Library of Congress Classification PK5423.M36 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 891.471

Indian literature is not a corpus of texts or literary concepts from India, argues Preetha Mani, but a provocation that seeks to resolve the relationship between language and literature, written in as well as against English. Examining canonical Hindi and Tamil short stories from the crucial decades surrounding decolonization, Mani contends that Indian literature must be understood as indeterminate, propositional, and reflective of changing dynamics between local, regional, national, and global readerships. In The Idea of Indian Literature, she explores the paradox that a single canon can be written in multiple languages, each with their own evolving relationships to one another and to English.
Hindi, representing national aspirations, and Tamil, epitomizing the secessionist propensities of the region, are conventionally viewed as poles of the multilingual continuum within Indian literature. Mani shows, however, that during the twentieth century, these literatures were coconstitutive of one another and of the idea of Indian literature itself. The writers discussed here—from short-story forefathers Premchand and Pudumaippittan to women trailblazers Mannu Bhandari and R. Chudamani—imagined a pan-Indian literature based on literary, rather than linguistic, norms, even as their aims were profoundly shaped by discussions of belonging unique to regional identity. Tracing representations of gender and the uses of genre in the shifting thematic and aesthetic practices of short vernacular prose writing, the book offers a view of the Indian literary landscape as itself a field for comparative literature.

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