The nation and its discourse: India and the crisis of modernity in the 1980s

Nandita Ghosh, Fordham University

Abstract

My dissertation examines the decade of the 1980s in India, which witnessed major upheavals. The dominant mood in the country was one of pessimism about the goals of modernization. The violence, that affected all Indians, was repeatedly taken up in the media and the arts as it questioned India's viability as a nation and the discourse through which India had imagined itself since independence. Through an analysis of fictional and journalistic narratives published in the 1980s, I examine the ways in which the crisis of a national discourse is represented in Indian texts of the period. This crisis manifests itself in tensions over the choice of a national language, over resource allocations between villages and cities, over struggles between minority and mainstream cultures, and over the erasure of women in nation-building activities. I study four works of fiction that typically represent this period: Anita Desai's In Custody (1984), Mahasweta Devi's Imaginary Maps (1989), Upamanyu Chatterjee's English August: An Indian Story (1988), and Partap Sharma's The Days of the Turban (1986). I read these works in counterpoint to news and journal articles in English on similar issues. These narratives, written and read by the middle-class in an attempt to normalize its vision of the nation, fail in crucial moments when they encounter the marginalized. My dissertation examines these failures through textual ruptures, which reveal challenges to bourgeois power. My choice of these narratives is also conditioned by the fact that they foreground the conflictual status of English in India. English, though attacked as an agent of continuing cultural imperialism, is deeply entrenched in India. The writer in English has access to a middle-class, pan-Indian audience, which is also the recipient of the bourgeois values associated class, pan-Indian audience, which is also the recipient of the bourgeois values associated with the liberal, humanist vision of a modern, scientific nation. Narratives in English are therefore the site for examining the process by which such a vision is (de)constructed. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Asian

Recommended Citation

Nandita Ghosh, "The nation and its discourse: India and the crisis of modernity in the 1980s" (January 1, 2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI9981402.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI9981402

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