Knutson’s essay examines contemporary accounts in Sanskrit verse of the conquered territories of King Laksmanasena of Bengal (c. late twelfth/early thirteenth century), situating their false claims in a larger history of petty kings’ competing false claims about themselves in the early medieval period. The essay thus uncovers a history of falsity and warring falsities and then correlates the tendencies of figuration that seemed to prove inseparable from the poetic conquest of political reality in Sanskrit. It traces tropes of sadism and sexual abuse and uncovers the threads, stretching back to Kalidasa (c. fourth/fifth century), of a longer history of correlation between such forms and political contents self-consciously presented in contradiction to a possible reality. Understanding this sadistic hypertrophy of expression, which culminated in the medieval period’s political poetry, in terms of the sadism inherent to the Freudian concept of the work of melancholia, the essay argues for a mode of literary and historical enquiry that grasps the most chimerical cultural forms, awash with falsity and fantasy—those that may attempt most forcefully to deny their historicity—as subtly situated in particular sociopolitical historical processes.

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