Accepted paper:

Violence in Arcadia: public and intimate literary reactions to political violence in contemporary India


Thomas de Bruijn

Paper short abstract:

Politically inspired violence in South Asia affects literature in many ways. This paper juxtaposes the effects it has on the characters of Sunny Singh’s latest novel Hotel Arcadia and on public acts such as literary authors returning the Sahitya Akademi award.

Paper long abstract:

The paper departs from the theoretical notion implied in the panel brief that political action or creative activity in a political context derive from both conscious choices as well as to from subconscious impulses that come from social and cultural structures in which both art and the political are embedded. It will apply this to two different literary reactions on recent political violence in contemporary India. On the one hand it goes to the heart of literary fiction, to the psychology of the fictional characters in Sunny Singh's 2014 novel Hotel Arcadia. Following on a reading from the novel by the author in the same panel, the paper will explore how experiences with extreme violence confronts the characters with an existential dilemma between art and life, living in the world or staying aloof, being involved or being an observer. It will analyse how these issues shape the psychology of the characters in the novel, but also how they reach out and take root in philosophical conundrums that resonate deeply in Indian culture. As a counterpoint, the paper contrasts this intimate response to public acts of protest by Indian authors, such as the returning of the Sahitya Akademi award in October 2015 by a number of illustrious Indian authors, in protest of politically inspired killings of intellectuals. It will look at the shift in public attitudes towards writing and art since Independence and explore possible patterns or structures that inform both the inner and the public reactions to violence.

panel P03
Arts of the political in contemporary South Asian literature and film