Amit Chaudhuri on audiences and exoticism

Via Kitabkhana, I caught links to a series Amit Chaudhuri is doing in the Calcutta Telegraph, on Indian writers and their audiences. It's a three part series, of which parts one and two have been published so far.

In part one, Chaudhuri argues that it's a vulgarized version of Said's concept of "orientalism" that drives the common suspicion that some English-language South Asian fiction is written for a western audience. I think there may be some link between the questions about English and the appearance of Said's argument, but it's probably more coincidental than causative.

Part two is more interesting to me, because there Chaudhuri questions whether there can ever be an organic connection between the characters in novels, the writers of those novels, and readers. He points out that many high modernist texts in Europe (he cites Ulysses particularly) definitely heightened the potential gap between the three groups -- Leopold Bloom isn't the sort of person who would read the book in which he is the protagonist. Secondly, Chaudhuri questions whether writing in languages other than English is really free of the problems of connection to the "real" India that one sometimes sees in Anglophone Indian writing.

I think he's right on both counts, though Chaudhuri doesn't take the next logical step, which would link the two gaps he's describing in terms of class. Joyce's invention of a protagonist who is in a sense too much of an ordinary guy to actually read the book that is about him is a way of challenging the expectations of his readers. And class is at play again in the example of Anantha Murthy's story about an urban bourgeois who returns to the village for a visit. Serious novels and short stories, whether in Kannada or English, are almost by definition an urban, bourgeois preoccupation. The divide in both cases is not between two economic class groups, not so much the "real India" vs. some deracinated, westernized, English-speaking fantasy of it.

[I must admit I have had Amit Chaudhuri's Freedom Song on my shelf for a couple of years, but have never had the chance to crack it. Anyone read it? However, I have made good use of his anthology, The Vintage Book of Modern Literature, which I think is probably the finest in its genre -- it's much better than Rushdie's Mirrorwork.]