Go read all of The Language of Developmental Literature by zunguzungu. But this brought smiles.
As I hope is clear, the appeal to the American example is specious on its own terms. But that’s what makes it such an interesting rhetorical move: however problematic it might be to declare that American literary history must be the model that Pakistan’s literary tradition should be expected to follow (and the answer is: quite problematic!), the fact that the “America” he’s holding up as exemplary isn’t actually the United States means we have to rethink what’s going on here even more fundamentally. He’s not only trying to impose a particular anti-historical model of “development” on Pakistani literature, but he has to first impose it on the United States.
I suspect that part of why James and Wharton are important to Freeman is that they allow “literary modernism” to become the origin point of a national literature (remember, Freeman “made a decision early on to focus on Pakistan writing of the modern nation, not of the region or of its languages,” a decision he neither defends or explains). Because the United States’ actual national literature originates in late-enlightenment and romantic era modes of identity, the clock for American literature needs to be re-set to the moment that James lands in London or Wharton in Paris, thereby remaking “American literature” itself as the modernist, internationalist transcendence of the merely local, indigenous, national, etc. Which is the story Freeman seems to want to tell about Pakistan too: its literature doesn’t really begin until the moment it becomes modern. The fact that it had literature before that fabled and mythical clock-striking moment, therefore, is not so much denied as rendered irrelevant: such literature isn’t really national “literature,” because it precedes the nation, therefore anything that precedes the nation has to be quietly gotten rid of.
What I want to get at, in other words, is how the ahistorical nature of “development” discourse is its central feature. When Freeman declares that “when a nation declares its independence a different sort of clock starts…since the writing starts to help define borders as much as lines drawn up on a map,” he’s also talking about the old clock stopping, the necessity that we silently render the old histories silent. After all, to imagine that everything begins anew the moment you sign a declaration of independence (or whatever), you have forget that the old stuff still continues, to forget all the old stuff that characterizes the “pre-modern” state of things, and all the ways it still remains and evolves. You have to forget about Urdu, the same way F.O. Mattheissen had to forget about Royall Tyler. And we do this not by denying that they exist, but just by quietly passing over them. After all, to explicitly deny their importance would only recognize their importance as counter-narrative; better just to not talk about them. There just isn’t space, you see? And then, suddenly, there isn’t.