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New Left Review 55, January-February 2009


The interweaving of literary affinities and cross-cultural influences, occluded by postcolonialist discourse, that characterized a vanished cosmopolitan modernism. Amit Chaudhuri explores paradoxes of belonging and defamiliarization in Bloomsbury and Bombay.

AMIT CHAUDHURI

COSMOPOLITANISM’S ALIEN FACE

Let me begin with a series of recent conversations, snatches from larger discussions, in which the subjects of cosmopolitanism and modernity—in their locations both in and out of Europe—were broached, explored and argued over. In one of them (the venue was a bookshop in Oxford), I was trying to articulate my unease with the term ‘postcolonial writer’; not only as a description of myself, but as a description of a generic figure. Both the affiliations and the oppositionality of the ‘postcolonial writer’ seemed too clearly defined; while, for most of the more interesting canonical writers of twentieth-century India, the complexity of their oppositionality took their affiliations to unexpected territory—for the Urdu writer Qurratulain Hyder, therefore, there was Elizabeth Bowen; for the Bengali poet, novelist and critic Buddhadeva Bose, who adored both Tagore and Eliot, there were also the compensatory, contrary figures of the poet Jibanananda Das, a contemporary he did much to champion, and of D. H. Lawrence and Whitman.

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