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New Left Review 40, July-August 2006


Oriental orientalism? Amit Chaudhuri unravels assumptions in the charge, levelled at India’s anglophone writers, of exoticizing the Subcontinent for Western markets—and explores alternative strategies of estrangement that would disrupt conventional national narratives.

AMIT CHAUDHURI

THE EAST AS A CAREER

At readings by Indian writers in English, two related questions, or some version of them, will invariably be asked by a member of the audience, whatever the setting—bookshop, university seminar or literary festival. The first question is, ‘Which audience do you write for?’; and the second, ‘Are you exoticizing India for a Western audience?’ The questions seem to arise from some residue of the idea of a moral custodianship of literature, at a time when no one—neither the reader, nor the person who attends readings, nor the scholar—seems to have a clear or reliable notion of what ‘literature’ is. What is it we are trying to protect when we ask these questions? What is literature or, for that matter, ‘Indian writing in English’—entities largely created by writers, and apparently susceptible to being sold and peddled like wares by them?

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