ENGL 540 A: Modern Literature

Radical Fictions: Literary Modernisms in South Asia

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
* *
Joint Sections: 
Jennifer E Dubrow

Syllabus Description:

Angare-ASIAN 498.jpg

Cover page, Angare [Sparks] (Lucknow: Nizami Press, c. 1932). Link

Radical Fictions:

Literary Modernisms in South Asia

Asian 498/English 540

TTh 1:30-3:20 PM PST

Online: https://washington.zoom.us/j/92969719116

Instructor: Jennifer Dubrow

Associate Professor of Urdu, Asian Languages and Literature


Office hours: W 3:30-4:30 PM, https://washington.zoom.us/j/93577825772


Course description:

“Radical changes are taking place in Indian society. … We believe that the new literature of India must deal with the basic problems of our existence today," declared the South Asian writer Mulk Raj Anand in 1939. Following the "global" or "planetary" turn in modernist studies, this course surveys the development of South Asian literary modernisms in their multiple languages, centers, and associated literary movements. We will treat modernism as a set of literary strategies practiced by writers across multiple languages and regions, from the period of the 1910s to about 1980. We will juxtapose primary texts with recent scholarship, and focus on modernist writing produced in South Asian vernacular languages, rather than the Anglophone writers usually studied in the West. While the modernist movements we will study are varied, we will interrogate how they reflect on and seek to change South Asian modernity, how they remake tradition and ideas of the past, and how they both imagine and critique the emerging nation-state.

The course moves largely chronologically. We begin with the Hindi writer Premchand's use of social realism in short stories from the 1930s, and consider the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore's relationship to his own poetry in his 1912 Nobel Prize-winning Gitanjali. From there we will move to Urdu and Hindi literary modernisms, covering the 1932 banned collection of stories Angare (Sparks, cover page shown above), and the work of the Progressive Writers' Movement in the 1940s, followed by the "New Story" (Nayi Kahani) movement in the 1950s and 1960s. We'll then cover the satthotari (post-1960) period in Bombay and the little magazine movement. When possible, we juxtapose original texts with critiques, satires, and reworkings by later writers. We will read several satirical stories about earlier modernist writers, and conclude with the 1981 novel J J: Some Jottings, a Tamil-language satire of Malayalam modernism.

This course will meet synchronously over Zoom. We will capitalize on the capabilities of Zoom by having three guest speakers, all current scholars of South Asian modernisms: Bilal Hashmi (Univ. of Toronto) on Angare and Dada, Prof. Preetha Mani (Rutgers) on "Nayi Kahani" (New Story), and Prof. Anjali Nerlekar (Rutgers) on Bombay modernism. These scholars will join us for some class sessions.

This course is intended for advanced undergraduate and graduate students. It is ideal for students looking for training in non-Anglophone global modernist cultures, and/or 20th-century South Asian literatures. No experience with South Asia is necessary, and all works will be read in English translation. Students with a background in related disciplines such as English, comparative literature, art history, history, anthropology, religion, and urban studies are welcome. 

Required books:

The only required book for this course is Snehal Shingavi's translation of Angare, published as:

Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan, and Mahmud-uz-Zafar, Angaaray, trans. Snehal Shingavi (Gurgaon: Penguin Books, 2014). The book is available on Amazon as a paperback (limited copies) and Kindle edition, and may also be available through local libraries. We will start discussing this work in Oct. 27's class, so order your copy now.

All other readings will be made available through this website.

Course Objectives:

  • To become familiar with major texts, centers, and movements of South Asian literary modernisms
  • To develop a critical perspective toward the field of modernist studies and its applicability to South Asia
  • To apply theories and methodologies learned in this class to a modernist text from your field of study (for graduate students), or to 1-2 texts from this course based on additional research (for undergraduates)

Course Policies

Course Requirements and Assessment

Last updated: 
April 24, 2020 - 5:04pm