The Time of Literature in History: Reconsidering Literary/Historical Method in South and Southeast Asia

AHA Session 52
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 3
Thursday, January 3, 2013: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Oak Alley Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
Sumit Guha, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
The Audience

Session Abstract

This session will focus on the significance of periodization and temporality in the dialogue between literary history and the discipline of history. Critical attention to literary history’s intimate relationship with the history of cultural regions or communities has revealed how they not only constitute each other, but also sustain narratives of ethnogenesis while enabling the method of cross-cultural comparison. In light of this scholarly work, South Asian historiography has offered a range of ways with which to think anew the ties that bind literature and history. Among them, the publication in 2003 of the magisterial Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia (ed. S. Pollock) historicized India’s classical and vernacular literatures. Since then, efforts have yielded cultural histories that view literature not as a mirror of society, but, rather, are attendant to the relationship between literary production and social and cultural worlds. Historians have queried the shifting ground between fiction and fact, re-working Natalie Zemon Davis’s famous aphorism, “fiction in the archive,” to suggest, rather, “an archive in fiction;” interrogations of genre have revealed the deep relationship between literary narrative, historical memory, and narrative history. This session hopes to deepen this dialogue by attending to the temporal frameworks that enable literary history and history to be written, imagined, and struggled over. Some questions it hopes to address are: What is the relationship between the periodization of literatures and our understanding of the histories of linguistic communities? How has the temporality of literary history informed the narration and writing of history and historical method?  How have these temporal modes engaged issues of belief and sovereignty? What might these temporalities hold for developing further, a critical sense of historicity attentive to fissures and transcendence?  Drawing on four different linguistic/literary traditions from four different locales in South Asia and Southeast Asia, the session hopes to ground these questions in a manner that will enable new ways of traversing our disciplines and regions.

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