Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Radical India: Histories, Literatures, Debates

ENGL 794.401
Thursday 12:00-3:00pm


Radical India Histories, Literatures, Debates.

This course considers some of key historical and literary lineages of contemporary debates in India, particularly ongoing contestations about nationalism, and freedom. Going back to  Bankimchandra Chatterji’s controversial novel, Anandmath or the Sacred Brotherhood  (1882), it looks at the way in which the idea of the nation, and of freedom, was debated in the early twentieth century by mainstream nationalists like M.K. Gandhi, critics of nationalism like Rabindranath Tagore, militant revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, anti-caste thinkers like B.R. Ambedkar, communists, feminists, and tribal activists.

Their writings take many forms ---political tracts (Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, Bhagat Singh’s “Why I am an Atheist” or Yashpal’s “The Philosophy of the Bomb”); speeches (Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste); novels (Tagore’s The Home and the World); short stories (Sadaat Hasan Manto, “Kali Shalwar” and Rasheed Jehan’s “Tour of Delhi”);  poems (Dhasal, “Kamatipura”), accounts of agitations and movements (Godavari Parulekar, Adivasis Revolt); life stories (“We were Making History”); essays (Arundhati Roy, “Walking with the Comrades”) and, of course, critical work (ranging from Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak ?” to Sharmila Rege’s “Dalit women speak differently”). We will approach all these both for what they say and how they say it. Questions of form in the literary sense will be therefore central to our discussions, but integrated with questions about colonial modernity.

The seminar itself cannot serve as an introduction to modern Indian history (if unfamiliar with India, I will be happy to suggest books you can read). Nor does it deal with every kind of radical idea –you are welcome to explore others which I have not been able to include. The idea is to think about contestations that remain key to contemporary India; to explore the changing contours of “radical,” as well as the overlaps and divergences between different streams of thought.

Requirements: consistent seminar participation, short (1-2 pages) weekly posts, leading 2 seminar discussions, and a research paper (20 pages).


fulfills requirements