More on Granta: Pakistan

Posted by sepoy on November 04, 2010 · 3 mins read

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,[1] 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.


Bridbeast | November 08, 2010

Oh dear. I read this article by Mr Z, and I have to say it was rather over-written and labourious. That's half-an-hour of my life I'm not going to get back. Which is kind of the point really. All this criticism of Granta which I've read is not going to go very far because it's poorly presented. To be harsh - you guys can't write. Or more accurately, you write like academics. Why aren't you writing clever, beautiful things which push your point of view - and then get them published where people will read them? Or why aren't you producing great translations of vernacular literature which dumb-ass gora log such as myself might want to read. Stop carping from the sidelines and get out there! Note: you may lose your purity in doing so.

Mona | November 08, 2010

Ahhh...thanks to this excerpt, and to some more found on the main blog, I may not be able to understand simple plain ol' English from now on... You lost half hour of your life? I'm gonna have nightmares ;p

Bridbeast | November 08, 2010

You lost half hour of your life? I'm gonna have nightmares ;p Isn't saying "you wasted my time" about the worst insult one can fling at a writer? Readers and writers make a deal - I'll give you my time and attention, you inform me, entertain me, grip me, and I'll carry on giving you those things. (And some money too, sometimes.) I gave you my time, and I wish I hadn't...

AK | November 11, 2010

I think that underneath all this academic jargon, Zunzuguzunzugu is actually trying to make a fairly simple but important point. The reason English writers come to represent the Pakistani nation is because they are imagined to be speaking in a cosmopolitan and global language and idiom, while Urdu writers are seen as parochial and local in their imagination and scope. Freeman seems to be drawing a similar distinction between global-cosmopolitan and local-parochial American writers, arguing that American literature begins when writers burst out onto the "world stage." This is a fiction because, well, all thought and writing is targeted towards specific audiences and giving it "global" status is not an inherent property of the text, rather it has to do with how we evaluate the worth of different audiences. The last paragraph is a little convoluted, but I think he's trying to say that the "modern" as a stage in development is always understood as a radical break from the past, as something decisively new, and that it gains its power by erasing or displacing what came before it, as the Granta Pakistan edition is trying to do to the history of Urdu literature.

Postcards from the Archive: Goodbye 2010 | January 02, 2011

[...] was Granta: Peccavistan (also reviewed by Lapata) and an exploration of the Cocoonistan from whence developmentalist discourse [...]