Showing posts with label Modernism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Modernism. Show all posts

Digital Humanities Exhibits at #MSA18: An Annotated Overview

I'm at the MSA this year to talk about my Claude McKay project as part of a Digital Exhibition.

The format is unusual: in one of the main halls of the conference hotel, the organizers set up large-ish monitors. Presenters bring their own laptops and, for a single morning of the conference, demonstrate their work to conference attendees as they come and go from regular panels. You don't give full-length talks, but that makes sense for many digital projects -- the open-ended format allows you to be more interactive and exploratory than is possible in a conventional conference talk.

Here are some of the exhibits that were on display at #MSA18 with my brief annotations:

Mapping Expatriate Paris. I got a chance to talk to Clifford Wulfman and Joshua Kotin from Princeton, who have been building a polished, very useful site based on Sylvia Beach's lending library records at Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. She kept the lending library records for many users. These contain books signed out but also the addresses of members of the lending library. One interesting discovery: many of the users of her lending library were actually not poor, left-bank bohemians, but members of the French upper class. (Check out this page to see a map and discussion of the left bank/right bank addresses of Shakespeare & Co. lending library patrons.)

Modernist Archives Publishing Project. I got to talk to Alice Staveley of Stanford about this project. It's an impressive archive of the output of the Hogarth Press -- its books, but also secondary materials like account books and correspondence. There was much more printed by the Hogarth Press than just Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury mainstays; among the many authors and texts I'd never heard of were a number of Indian authors whose works I'd like to explore. Many of the texts in this archive might be technically under copyright, but many of the authors' families have granted permission for the digital presentation of their works. I was impressed by the level of care and attention to details in this well-funded project.

Marianne Moore Digital Archive. The majority of Marianne Moore's poetry is under copyright, but this site is planning to put forward some really interesting ancillary materials, including Moore's notebooks and the Marianne Moore Newsletter, which contained sketches Marianne Moore made in her notebooks as well as analysis and rare historical-biographical engagement with the author.

Modernist Networks (Modnets). I didn't get a chance to talk to the folks doing this project in person but the goal is pretty clear -- they're aiming to be a hub for modernist studies digital humanities project and also a kind of vetting / peer-review mechanism along the lines of what we see with sites focusing on earlier periods. Currently they have 59 federated sites and links to more than 78,000 objects. (I will submit my own project to them for peer-review / federation once it's a little further along.)

Modeling Modernist Studies (Topic Modeling Modernism/Modernity). Jonathan Goodwin's interesting topic modeling project exploring keywords and concept-clusters in the flagship journal of Modernist Studies. It's a continuation of a kind of meta-scholarly analysis he was doing earlier with his modeling of the language of MLA job listings. I got a chance to talk with Jonathan about the project and I hope to play around more with some of the newer topic modeling tools he's been using at some point. 

Modernism in Baltimore: A Literary Archive. I did not get to talk to the folks behind this project. Still, the idea here seems fairly straightforward -- they're collecting artifacts and historical materials related to literary modernism in Baltimore (the contributors also appear to have an interest in architecture and the arts more broadly). As of now the home for this is a Facebook page, though some resources are stored at

Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism / Linked Modernisms. Stephen Ross, whom I met at DHSI last year (he teaches at University of Victoria and is currently President of the MSA), is the general editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism (a large-scale digital / subscription-based encyclopedia project). He's been taking the metadata generated by that project to produce an open (non-paywalled) resource called "Linked Modernisms." As of this morning the main link for the project seems to be broken, but you can read about the project here.

Open Modernisms. Another project from the University of Victoria. It's a collection of modernism studies syllabi. At this point just starting out, it looks like. (But I have some syllabi I want to send them... Readers, consider contributing!)

I enjoyed talking to Brandon White of UC Berkeley about his project using WordNet and NLTK to analyze the plot and evolving thematics of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom (incest, bigamy, race/miscegenation...). I don't see a link to his Compson project online, so I don't think it's public research yet.

William S. Burroughs Digital Manuscript Project at  Florida State University. Unfortunately the Burroughs archive is, for copyright reasons, largely behind a password-protected firewall. But I got to talk to Stanley Gontarski and Paul Ardoin about the project at length, and I was really impressed by the level of attention and care they have put in -- there are some really powerful tools for analyzing and comparing versions and studying Burroughs' intertextuality. In short, a really powerful resource for serious Burroughs scholars. (Anyone reading this interested in using the site should contact the site editors; they can get you a temporary password to access FSU's amazing Burroughs materials.)

Using a Visual Understanding Environment to Understand H.D.'s Networks of Influence. Celena Kusch is co-chair of the international H.D. Society. I got to talk to her about using a software package called the Visual Understanding Environment to study the social network around the writer H.D. Fascinating project and a software package I definitely want to explore a little myself, perhaps for my Kiplings project.

American WWI Poetry Digital Archive. I talked to Tim Dayton of Kansas State at length about this excellent archive of more than 400 books of American World War I poetry. This morning, unfortunately, I can't seem to find a link to the project itself anywhere. (I think this project is currently being migrated from Scalar 1 to Drupal or perhaps Scalar 2.)


My own Claude McKay project was a modest first version of a site that will eventually have more primary texts (the two Jamaican collections of poems are coming soon!) and more robust network diagrams (probably using Giphy down the road). It was gratifying to talk about the work with a number of people walking by my booth; thank you to everyone who took a few minutes to stop by and say hello. Most people seemed to get it, and saw the value of the network diagrams / thematic tagging that I and my graduate students have been doing.

Claude McKay: New Site, Expanded Project (w/Network Diagrams)

Harlem Shadows: Claude McKay's Early Poetry

I've recently been working on rebuilding a collaborative class project on Claude McKay's Harlem Shadows in the Scalar platform. As I've been putting the new site together, I've also been adding fresh material to the project, including a number of McKay's early political poems. (I've also been using Scalar for my Kiplings and India project.) It's a powerful platform, especially with regards to metadata, annotations, and tagging. It's also designed to allow you to create multiple "paths" through overlapping material. In McKay's case the Paths feature comes in particularly handy as he tended to publish the same poems in different venues; it's revealing to see which poems he tended to republish and which he quietly "put away."

The new site can be accessed here. I would particularly recommend readers play around with the Visualizations options on the menu at the top corner of the screen.

Here is the text of some new material I've added to the site, analyzing, in a very preliminary and informal way, a couple of network diagrams I generated using Scalar's built-in visualization tools.

* * *

Below I'll present two different network diagrams I've derived from Scalar's built-in visualization feature. One looks at the clusters created by thematic tags, the other looks at the relationship between poems published in different venues.

Skeptics of Digital Humanities scholarship sometimes see objects like network diagrams and wonder what they might tell us that we don't already know. And indeed, even here, to some extent, the diagrams below do show us visually some things we might have been able to intuit without the benefit of this tool.  I should also acknowledge that the thematic tags we have been using are somewhat subjective. We have the poem "A Capitalist at Dinner" tagged by "Class" but not by "Labor." Others might structure these tags differently and end up with diagrams that look different. 

That said, there are some surprises here. In McKay's poetry I'm especially interested in thinking about the connections between the two streams of his writing from this early period, which we might loosely divide into a) political poems (including race-themed poems and Communist/worker-themed poems) and b) nature-oriented, pastoral and romantic poems. At least in terms of publication venue, there is quite a bit of overlap between these two broad categories. McKay excluded the most directly Communist poems from his book-length publications, but he included—often at the urging of his editors—poems expressing decisive anger at racial injustice in American society. And even in the body of poems published in magazines like Workers Dreadnought there are hints of the nature themes in poems like "Joy in the Woods "and "Birds of Prey." The network diagrams show us a series of other poems as well at the "hinge" between the two clusters. These poems might be particularly worthy of special attention and study in the future. 

A. Thematic Tags.

Take a look at the following network diagram showing the relations between a limited set of thematic tags, generated by Scalar using the built-in visualization application. The image below is a static image, but if you click on VISUALIZATIONS > TAG on the menu in the corner of this site, you'll get a "clickable" diagram that is also live and manipulable. The body of poems included here is comprised of all of the poems from Harlem Shadows as well as about fifteen of the early poems not included in Harlem Shadows

(See the full-size version of this diagram here)

What does this diagram show? First, we should note that the red dots show tags, while the orange dots show poems. As of November 2016, only eight thematic areas have been tagged: Race, Class, City, Nature, Home, Sexuality Homoeroticism, Labor. (More Tag information from the earlier, Wordpress version of this site is currently in the Metadata for individual poems, and is discoverable using the search function on this Scalar site. Try searching for "Birds," for instance.) 

What Can We Learn? 

1. Thematic Clusters. First and most obviously, certain themes are "clustered" together. Nature and Home have many overlaps, and thus appear clustered. Sexuality and homoeroticism also form a cluster. And finally, the tags focused on Class, Labor, and city life also form a natural cluster, though the clustering is significantly less tight than the others.

2. Centrality of Nature. An obvious discovery is that "Nature" is one of the most common tags in McKay's early poetry. This was a surprise to the students in the Digital Humanities class (given that we think of McKay as a black poet with militant/leftist politics, we might expect those themes to be more dominant). Of course, many of the poems marked "Nature" also overlap with race, class/labor, or sexual/queer themes. The surprise in finding so much discussion of Nature—and specifically McKay's interest in writing about birds—might remind us that we actually need to read a poet's poems before rushing to narrowly define them (i.e., as a black, political poet). (I would encourage visitors to look at Joanna Grim's essay exploring the "bird" theme in Harlem Shadows)

3. Home. Many of McKay's poems in this period thematize his memory of life in Jamaica. Thus, a few of the poems (for instance, "The Tropics in New York") reflect McKay's nostalgia for his pastoral upbringing from the vantage point of someone now living in a much larger, modern urban setting. 

4. Poems with three or more tags. I'm interested in the poems that presently have three or more tags: "The Barrier," "The Castaways," and "On the Road." These are poems that scholars may not have paid very attention to in the past, but diagrams like the one above might lead us to think of them as newly important as they bridge some of McKay's most important themes from this period. (Again, the number of tags is a bit arbitrary and at present an artifact of the way metadata has been tagged. At most this information might nudge readers to pay a bit more attention to some poems rather than others, not to make any sweeping conclusions about the poems as a whole.)

I would encourage users of this site to play with the live visualization tool and send me (Amardeep Singh) any screen captures that seem interesting or telling. 

B. Publication Venues

This diagram is a bit more messy. It contains nodes for publication venues (which are organized on this Scalar site using "Paths"). These appear in light blue in the diagram below.  Users can access a "live" version of the diagram using VISUALIZATIONS > CONNECTIONS in the menu in the corner above. 

(See the full size version of this diagram here)

What do we see here? (Note: the blue dots represent publication venues. The red dots represent thematic tags. The orange dots represent individual poems. The green dots are media files uploaded to this site. Readers should probably try and ignore the green dots.)

Essentially there is a larger cluster around Spring in New Hampshire and Other Poems and Harlem Shadows, and a smaller cluster around the Workers Dreadnought path and the Early Uncollected Poetry path I've constructed on this site. Perhaps not all that surprisingly, the sexuality and homoeroticism tags are mostly entirely disconnected from the labor & class oriented poetry published in magazines like Workers Dreadnought.  But there are some poems right in the middle between the two clusters that seem especially interesting to consider -- poems like "Joy in the Woods," "The Battle," "Summer Morn in New Hampshire," "Birds of Prey," and "Labor's Day" that appear with strong connections both to the "Nature" tag and to "Class" and "Labor" tags. Though few of these poems have been looked at closely by critics, they are in some ways the key to understanding the two major aspects of Claude McKay's poetry in this period. 

Group Project: Sentiment Analysis of Poetry in Python (DHSI 2016)

I took a one-week course on Coding Fundamentals at DHSI 2016 with Dennis Tenen (Columbia University) and John Simpson (University of Alberta). You can see the syllabus for the course here

Let me start with a quick plug for Dennis Tenen's group at Columbia, the "Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities"  You can see some of the projects they are doing at their Github site; one in particular that seems really interesting is RikersBot, a Twitter bot that conveys a series of statements from inmates at Rikers Island Prison in New York. It was created as a joint project between Columbia University students and Rikers inmates interested in learning coding; part of the project involved teaching all of the young people in the class the coding they would need to build a Twitter bot. The Bot is currently not active, but the stream it produced over several months is well worth a look.


Why coding? I wanted to get started with coding because it seems to be one of the major dividing lines between people who can chart their own independent course through the digital humanities and people who work with ideas and tools developed by others. It's not the be-all, end-all, of course (as I've said before, you can do so much now with off-the-shelf tools), but some experience with coding seems like it could be really helpful for projects that don't quite fit the mold of what's come before.

The class itself was intense, frustrating, and sometimes really fun. I'm not going to lie: learning how to code is hard. I can't say that I will readily be able to start spitting out Python scripts after four days of working with the language, but I might at least be able to figure out how to a) do some simple scripts to process batches of text files that otherwise require repetitive, laborious work, and b) use libraries of code developed by others in Python to do more advanced things.


DHSI 2015 Notes 1: Pre-conference on "Social Knowledge Creation"

I'm here in Victoria for week 2 of the DHSI; I might try and post a few brief notes along the way for myself and any others who might be interested.

There were two pre-conferences meeting at the same time on Sunday. One was on maximizing accessibility in DH projects -- especially for users who are sight-impaired -- and the other was on "Social Knowledge Creation."  It was a tough decision, but I decided to go to the Social Knowledge Creation session.

The keynote, on the history of the Wiki idea, was given by John Maxwell. He started with a quote from Ivan Illich from 1973, on "Tools for Conviviality." I'll just post the whole quote, since it's interesting:

“Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision” Industrial tools deny this possibility to those who use them and they allow their designers to determine the meaning and expectations of others. Most tools today cannot be used in convivial fashion.
In effect, a highly open-ended tool like a Wiki is a 'convivial' tool, while other, more strictly hierarchical, means of structuring knowledge are more "industrial."

Maxwell talked about the creator of the first Wiki, Ward Cunningham. Wikis were named after the Hawaiian "Wiki-Wiki Bus," and initially written using the early Mac HyperCard software. Cunningham went on to create the first Wiki website, called WikiWikiWeb, focusing mainly on creating a base of knowledge about software development.

Cunningham defines a Wiki as "a body of writing that a community is willing to maintain." Maxwell, in his comments, expanded on this, describing Wiki writing as "the textual embodiment of a community of inquiry" and as "collective autoethnography." What he finds remarkable about the Wiki framework is that it's a software system "that has no features"; it's effectively just a system of writing. Maxwell also talked about some of his own experiences using Wikis in his research ("Coach House Technological History").

At the end of his talk Maxwell talked about Ward Cunningham's fascinating recent shift away from his own creation -- the idea of a community-edited, but still centralized, body of knowledge. Ward has now invented a new model of a distributed Wiki system that he calls a "federated" Wiki.

Cunningham talks about the reasons for the shift in this article in Wired

But there is one thing about the wiki that he regrets. “I always felt bad that I owned all those pages,” he says. The central idea of a wiki — whether it’s driving Wikipedia or C2 — is that anyone can add or edit a page, but those pages all live on servers that someone else owns and controls. Cunningham now believes that no one should have that sort of central control, so he has built something called the federated wiki.
This new creation taps into the communal ethos fostered by GitHub, a place where software developers can not only collaborate on software projects but also instantly “fork” these projects, spawning entirely new collaborations.
To me, it seems like there’s an unresolved contradiction here: Cunningham started out wanting a centralized index with multiple authors. When that worked -- almost too well -- he changed his mind, and wanted to decentralize his own index, achieving multiplicity not just of authorship but of web domains.

I think many people share Cunningham's ambivalence about centralized knowledge. On the one hand, don’t we want there to be authoritative references out there? The feminist DH critique of the male-centered tendencies in Wikipedia (who edits it, who contributes “knowledge? see this) is in a way accepting the premise that Wikipedia is a powerfully central site for knowledge production and distribution. Insofar as centralized knowledge production is still a widely felt social need, perhaps we need a better, more diverse Wikipedia, not a decentralized, confederated Wiki system where everyone creates and curates their own bases of knowledge.

Moreover, if a decentralized mode of knowledge production really does take off, it likely won’t be led and scripted by Ward Cunningham. The decentralization might also have a price that maybe we haven’t anticipated: the decentralization of knowledge and history can be as empowering to conservative revisionists as much as to progressive thinkers.

During the break, I said as much to a faculty member from a University of Wisconsin campus (I didn't catch her name); she mentioned to me that this debate over the centralization of knowledge was in fact happening in the 18th century as the first Encyclopedias were being compiled. She mentioned a book that sounds relevant, Seth Rudy's Literature and Encyclopedism in Enlightenment Britain

The lightning sessions had many interesting papers. Because these are works in progress, I won't say too much here. I will say that the papers I was personally most interested in were both by graduate students from the University of Victoria itself, and both involved applying various mapping visualization techniques to works of literature. Alex Christie's Z-Axis 3D maps are far enough along that he's collaborating with Modernist Studies Asociation members and planning a session at the MSA that will showcase the methodology at MSA 2015 later this year. Randa Khatib has, in conjunction with colleagues in computer science at the American University of Beirut (which has its own Digital Humanities Center!), developed an installable tool called Topotext, that automatically annotates text files, using natural language processing to extract geographic data. 

On my own, I installed Topotext from the version I found on Github at the link above, and played around with a .Txt version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The concentration of location on the east of Ireland should be obvious for those who know the novel. But what's interesting are all the references in the southwest of Ireland. It's easy to forget the trip Stephen takes with his father early in the novel to Cork, and think, instead, of Portrait as first and foremost a Dublin novel. But that trip to Cork is of course important, both to Stephen's development of his sense of space, and to the concept of Irish space in the novel more broadly. There's more we could say here, but suffice it to say for now that it seems like the Topotext tool has justified its existence here by getting me to think about Portrait's relationship to space in Ireland a little differently than I had before. 

Teaching Notes: Transatlantic Modernism

This spring I taught a new graduate course at Lehigh on Transatlantic Modernism. 

As a bit of back-story: Several Ph.D. students I have worked with in recent years have expressed interest in defining their Modernism reading and teaching fields along transatlantic lines, but neither my colleague Seth Moglen (who does American modernism and the Harlem Renaissance) nor I (generally w/ British modernism and postcolonial literature) had looked closely at the historical premises of this. Nor had anyone taught a course with a specifically transatlantic focus.

That resistance to Transatlanticism in English literary studies comes from some deep-seated professional biases. Transnational research projects have become increasingly encouraged and common in literary studies in recent years, but generally speaking regional and period grounding has remained pretty much constant: for the purposes of the academic job market, you are still either an Americanist or a British literature person. One incidental goal of teaching this particular course was to test out whether a transatlantic approach to the writing of this period is in fact intellectually coherent -- rather than simply convenient for students aiming to pitch themselves broadly.

So my query going into this course was: does the "transatlantic" designation -- equal parts British and American -- actually fit modernism as I would like to see it defined? Many readers will be familiar with the transatlantic careers of major American figures such as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), and Nella Larsen. Here I wanted to cross-reference these American writers' approaches to England and Europe against several key British writers who ended up as expatriates in the United States, most prominently D.H. Lawrence, Mina Loy, and W.H. Auden. The hypothesis is that modernism unfolded in the 1910s and 20s as a singular, transnational literary movement not seriously hampered by the vast distance between the two ends of the Atlantic Ocean.

The conceptual hypothesis might have major pedagogical implications: is it perhaps time for English literary studies to dispense with the traditional segregation of "British" and "American" writing from this period? Despite the major changes in literary methodology that have occurred over the past few decades – the rise of new modes of literary theory, and new sensitivity to issues of social justice and gendered and racial inclusiveness – for the most part, American and British literatures are today thought of and taught as separate from one another. While a certain amount of overlap is acknowledged (writers like T.S. Eliot are generally taught in courses on both British and American modernism), the idea that modernism in English might have been effectively a single event occurring nearly simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic hasn’t really hit home yet.

As I was designing the course, I was especially interested in focusing on the social networks, friendships and literary magazines that linked the various writers to one another. Who travelled where, when? What was everyone reading? In many cases writers who were living in Paris or London published their work in American journals. An American magazine called Little Review, for instance, was the first to publish Joyce’s Ulysses; it was also the defendant in the first obscenity trial against the novel. Similarly, the American magazine Others was the first to publish the provocative early poems of British writer Mina Loy.

I have been interested in whether it's possible that the changing dynamics of transatlantic travel and communication may have played a role in helping modernism play out as it did. Since the advent of faster and larger steamships starting in the 1870s and 80s, transatlantic travel had become considerably more common and manageable. Henry Adams has a great line about boarding a new transatlantic steamer called the Teutonic (on the Cunard / White Star Line) in 1892:
The voyage was less trying than I expected. The ship was so big and so fast, and relatively so comfortable, that as I lay in my stateroom and looked out of my windows on the storm, I felt a little wonder whether this world were the same that I lived in thirty years ago. In all my wanderings this is the first time I have had the sensation. All the rest of the world seems more or less what it was, and Europe is less changed than any of the rest; but the big Atlantic steamer is a whacker. (Henry Adams, cited in Stephen Fox, Transatlantic: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships)

By the 1910s, of course, with the advent of the HMS Mauretania and the HMS Lusitania, the experience was even better and faster than it was in 1892. One cannot help but think that the fact that it took less than a week to cross the Atlantic in person -- not to mention the ease of circulating and disseminating both magazines and books -- may have had ripple effects, and helped to allow new aesthetic styles and ideas to proliferate with new speed in the early 1910s in particular. Could the HMS Mauretania been one of the hidden historical "whackers" that helped put transatlantic modernism in motion? (One might also mention the role of transatlantic telegraph cables, though by the 1910s these were nothing new.)

(More after the break.)

Revisiting Ahmed Ali: Twilight in Delhi (1940)

[Note to friends: I'm doing a version of this as a talk a couple of different times in the next few weeks. Any feedback, corrections, or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.] 

Ahmed Ali's career is one of the best ones I know to illustrate the connections between the style and ideology of the Progressive Writers' Movement and more experimental and lyrical modes of mid-20th century writing in India and Pakistan. Ali is best known for his English-language novel, Twilight in Delhi (first published in London by Hogarth Press in 1940), but he wrote several other novels in English, as well as a number of short stories and plays in Urdu in the 1930s. He was one of the "Angare Four" -- one of the four authors who contributed short stories to a collection called Angare in 1932, which was furiously condemned by the Indian Muslim community and banned by the British government for material deemed offensive to Muslims in particular. He was also one of the co-founders of the All-India Progressive Writers' Association AIPWA, in 1935-6. Around 1940, however, he left the movement following disagreements with its leader, his friend Sajjad Zaheer. Like many of the other major Indian Muslim intellectuals of his era, Ali had spent some time in Aligarh at the Aligarh Muslim Anglo-Oriental College (today known as Aligarh Muslim University), an English-medium college that was also known as a reformist hub. (E.M. Forster's friend Syed Ross Masood had a connection to Aligarh.)

Thanks to the Annual of Urdu Studies, we have a lot of biographical material about Ali freely available online. Start with this annotated CV. Then see Carlo Coppola's survey of Ali's literary career here. Ali went into diplomatic service right around the time of independence, and was assigned to China. After Partition he elected to make Karachi his home, and later continued to work as a diplomat and a businessman there. In the 1960s, he published a second work of literary fiction in English, Ocean of Night. In the 1980s, he published a diplomatic satire called Of Rats and Diplomats, as well as a self-translated volume of his earlier Urdu short stories from the 1930s and 40s, The Prison-House. I've looked at all three novels, but the only one I can recommend is Twilight in Delhi (the short stories are also recommended) 

In the volume that started it all, Angare, Ali has two short stories, Badal Nahi Aati (The Clouds Don't Come) and Mahavaton ki ek raat (One night in the winter rains). "The Clouds Don't Come" was translated by Tahira Naqvi for Michigan State's Journal of South Asian Literature (JSAL). As far as I know, "Mahavaton ke ek raat" has never been translated into English [I'm actually working on doing one, albeit with help.]  Indeed, as I understand it, despite its importance as a starting point for the  Progressive Writers' Movement, Angare as a whole has never been translated into English; at best we have a few selections here and there in journals like JSAL. I also can't find any evidence that it's ever been republished in India since it was banned by the British in 1933; the only re-publication I know of is an Urdu edition published in England around 1988. (That is, needless to say, the version I myself am looking at; the original, banned Angare is nowhere to be found.) 

[UPDATE: There are now not one, but two, translations of Angare [Angaarey]. The one I know and can recommend is by Snehal Shingavi, from Penguin India. Rupa Publications also has its own translation. ]

Revisiting the Calcutta Writers Workshop

I remember finding volumes printed by the Calcutta Writers Workshop while browsing the library as a young graduate student, but at the time I didn't have much context or understanding of the history of the group or its philosophy. Indeed, at that time I found the books to be kind of shoddy -- the hand-printed aspect of the volumes made them seem archaic.

More recently, as I've been researching "modernism" in India and Pakistan, I've been learning more, and I now have a much greater appreciation of what P. Lal and company were trying to do. First, a little background: Calcutta Writers Workshop was founded in 1958 by a group of seven writers -- mainly as a venue to share poetry. By 1960, the group had begun publishing chapbooks of poetry and small books of criticism; they also started a journal called Miscellany. The group is still active as a publishing house, with recent volumes listed on its website here.

I would also recommend readers check out P. Lal's essay on the founding of the Writers Workshop here. And see the profile of P. Lal in The Hindu, from last year.

Gordon Roadarmel and Modern Hindi Literature

One of the key critics in looking at modernism in Hindi literature in particular is the American critic and translator, Gordon Roadarmel. Today Roadarmel is probably better known as a translator (i.e., of Godaan) than as a critic, mainly because we have several excellent published translations from him, while his 1969 dissertation from UC-Berkeley was never formally published. (In terms of translations, Roadarmel also did a collection of stories called "A Death in Delhi," and a translation of Agyeya's novel Apne Apne Anjani [To Each His Stranger].) The fact that such seminal research went unpublished is hard for me to fathom, though it may be that the critic's premature death in 1971 may have had more than a little to do with it.

Luckily, I was able to track down a copy of Roadarmel's dissertation in bound form at Penn, and have been reading it this week. Here I wanted to offer a few helpful quotes from him as regards the 'modernist' (or experimental) turn in modern Hindi fiction, which is sometimes described as the "Nayi Kahani" (or New Story).

Here is Roadarmel's account of the emergence of that movement in the late 1950s:

[T]he popularity of the [short] story seems to have been first noted in print by a writer calling himself Chakradhar, in the April 1954 issue of Kalpana an important literary journal. He says: "After a long time, short stories have again begun to attract readers." A change in the nature of the stories was noted by the son of Premchand, Shripat Ray, writing in the New Year issue of Kahani in 1956:

I began to wonder whether I might be behind the pace of the times and therefore was not noting the progress in the Hindi story which ought to be expected... The form of the story was changing and perhaps I, because of my old traditions, was asking of the story what today was not characteristic of it.

The naming of the new group is credited to Namwar Singh, probably in an article published in Kahani just a year after Shripat's comments. Namwar wrote: 'In thinking about the story today, the first thing that comes to my mind is the question as to whether, like 'nayi kavita,' there is also such a thing as 'nayi kahani.'

In 1957 the term Nayi Kahani became generally applied to the new writing, though debate has never stopped as to the appropriateness of the term. By 1957, Hindi literary circles generally had hailed the material appearing in that issue of Kahani early in 1956. A year before, in 1955, eighty percent of the stories in the special issue of the periodical were by older writers. In this 1956 issue, eighty percent were by the newer writers; and "in the Hindi world there was such wide discussion of this issue and such a warm welcome that the foundation of the revival of the story was established."

In subsequent pages, Roadarmel goes on to talk about the initial divergence in the Nayi Kahani movement between authors who were more interested in 'rural' fiction and those who were more thematically 'urban'. One text mentioned as aligned with the rural-ist Nahi Kahani is Phanishwer Nath Renu's 1954 Maili Anchal (The Soiled Border). But this debate died down relatively quickly, and over time, the urban sensibility came to predominate.

Two Passages Briefly Compared: "Ulysses" and "To the Lighthouse"

This spring I'm teaching a course on Modernism, and I have many things I've been hoping to post about.

One topic we discussed might be described as "comparative stream of consciousness," though I generally don't emphasize the term "stream-of-consciousness" very much, since it is virtually impossible to define satisfactorily. In-class, I gave students two passages relating to the sea, one from Joyce's Ulysses, and the other from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.

Here's a passage from the end of Section I of Joyce's Ulysses ("Telemachus"):

Woodshadows floated silently by through the morning peace from the stairhead seaward where he gazed. Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast of the dim sea. The twining stresses, two by two. A hand plucking the harpstrings, merging their twining chords. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.

A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly, shadowing the bay in deeper green. It lay beneath him, a bowl of bitter waters. Fergus’ song: I sang it alone in the house, holding down the long dark chords. Her door was open: she wanted to hear my music. Silent with awe and pity I went to her bedside. She was crying in her wretched bed. For those words, Stephen: love’s bitter mystery.

Where now?

Joyce caresses the music of the "wh" sound; this is virtually poetry. (Incidentally, at the end there, Stephen is beginning to remember the death of his mother.)

And here’s Woolf’s To the Lighthouse:

So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea. A steamer far out at sea had drawn in the air a great scroll of smoke which stayed there curving and circling decoratively, as if the air were a fine gauze which held things and kept them softly in its mesh, only gently swaying them this way and that. And as happens sometimes when the weather is very fine, the cliffs looked as if they were conscious of the cliffs, as if they signaled to each other some message of their own. For sometimes quite close to the shore, the Lighthouse looked this morning in the haze an enormous distance away.

‘Where are they now?’ Lily thought, looking out to sea. Where was he, that very old man who had gone past her silently, holding a brown paper parcel under his arm? The boat was in the middle of the bay.

This comes from near the end of To the Lighthouse, after Mrs. Ramsay's death. Lily has been working on her painting near the Ramsay's summer house, while Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James have gone on a day-trip to a lighthouse that is distant, but visible from where Lily sits. Augustus Carmichael has remained on shore with her, and figures here as the "very old man who had gone past her silently."

Both Woolf and Joyce aim to find meanings and moods in the landscape that are psychic rather than objectively descriptive. Both short passages also contain some kind of emotional or subjective turn, leading to a question ("Where now?"/"Where are they now?") But the two passages also show important differences in Woolf's and Joyce's respective styles, along the lines of sentence structure, theme, and sound of the prose.

Both Woolf and Joyce trade in moods, animating nature with reflections of human emotion. But Woolf's aim is to create a singular image (a "fabric") of grandeur, while Joyce seems more interested in doublings, pairings, and rhythm. Woolf meditates on the disappearance of the other through distance, while Joyce weaves the music of spoken language with the sound of water: "wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide."

Other interpretations? Are there parallels (or telling dissimilarities) I've missed?