A product of the last two decades, Dalit (“untouchable caste”) literature in Hindi has fashioned itself as a modern protest literature, drawing on the cultural and political traditions of other Indian languages and literatures. But Hindi Dalit literature is unique in that its fictional movement against casteism, atrocity, and historical elision has effectively embraced the ideologies of realism while developing a strident critique of modernist aesthetics. This essay deconstructs that realist turn by tracing it through the question of caste. Gajarawala reads the present embrace of an aesthetics and politics of realism via the seminal text on caste, Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935), which sets a literary precedent for the representation of untouchability. In it modernist form allows for a particular reading of untouchability; through the abstractions of both Marxism and metaphor, untouchability becomes a universalized condition of subjection, and the goal is the production of political consciousness. Contemporary Hindi Dalit texts, however, deny the very category of the universal and insist on consciousness as a given; they do so by relying on the metonymic modes of the realist. Thus realism offers a putative solution to the problem of casteist assertion in the cultural sphere.
Research Article|September 01 2012
Toral Jatin Gajarawala; The Casteized Consciousness: Literary Realism and the Politics of Particularism. Modern Language Quarterly 1 September 2012; 73 (3): 329–349. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-1631424
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