This essay reads exemplary instances of the fictional work of Indian novelist R. K. Narayan (1906-2001) as expressions of critical anachronism in a world literary marketplace that, despite claiming diversity as a global, even transcendental, value, remains committed to both the uniformity of literature as a conceptual form and the ubiquity of national models of cultural production. Narayan’s fictional world very deftly brings to light a plethora of verbal and textual practices—whether they be the calligraphy of the signboard painter (The Painter of Signs) or the discourse of a “little magazine” (Mr. Sampath)—that have their own modes of authorization and circulation distinct from the increasingly universal molar institution of literature. It is these dispersed textualities that sustain the nameless, ad hoc relationships that make the human aggregations of Narayan’s imaginary town of Malgudi as something other than microcosms of national-civilizational wholes. Inextricably intertwined with his elaboration of such radically experimental human relationships is a syntax of love that is an extension of the intimacy between Narayan’s craftsmen characters and the practice of their crafts but is not founded in templates of belonging—national, civilizational, familial, or conjugal. My argument ends with the idea that for Narayan, this conceptualization of love generates critical practice as a function of the kind of curiosity that, armed with the force of fictional possibilities, has the strength to imagine different realities and possibilities under the most difficult political circumstances.
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Manisha Basu; A Matter of Light and Shade: Fiction and Criticism in R. K. Narayan’s Malgudi. boundary 2 1 May 2013; 40 (2): 215–238. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2151857
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