ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Inescapable Minotaur: Critical Issues and Contestations in the Making of a Radical Poetics


Sarkar Judhajit - Heidelberg University, Modern Languages and Literatures of South Asia, Heidelberg, Germany


26 – Radical Poetics in the Literary Cultures of South Asia


 This paper aims to examine some of the debates that accompanied the articulation of a radical Marxist poetics in Urdu in late colonial, early postcolonial South Asia. Building on the Urdu poet Iftikhar Jalib’s notion of poetry as “intimacy with the labyrinth,” I intend to cast a revisionist look at the efforts to fashion a revolutionary idiom of Urdu poetry in the wake of the progressive literary movement and the politico-aesthetic imperatives and prejudices undergirding them. This will involve juxtaposing the progressivist, the modernist, and the “auratic” strands of literary thought in Urdu in this period, with a view to delineating the ambivalent nature of the aesthetic reorientation that progressivism sought to bring about in Urdu poetry. Drawing on the works of Miraji, Sardar Jafri, N. M. Rashed, Faiz Ahmad Faiz et al, I want to unpack the nature of these ambivalences vis-à-vis the unresolved tensions between the combined process of “secularization, modernization, and Europeanization” underlying South Asian literary modernity and the specific social history of Urdu in South Asia, both as a language and a literary culture, since the late nineteenth century. The questions I shall explore are: how far the changes that organized progressivism envisaged for Urdu poetry were in fact radical and how they related to the issues of emancipatory politics and generic discontinuity, the latter inextricably linked to the reality of Muslim minoritization in the subcontinent.