The proposed seminar, which will re-examine the work of Rabindranath Tagore (India, 1861-1941), Pablo Neruda (Chile, 1904-1973), and Aimè Cèsaire (Martinique, 1913-2008) seeks to shift the grounds of investigation from questions of literary value, circumscribed by canonical considerations always already overwritten by the West, to considering these figures from perspectives informed by what might be called, following the Portuguese philosopher, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, the ‘epistemologies of the south’ (2003, 2009). Prof. Santos suggests that such an epistemology would perform a counter-hegemonic function through an ‘enlarging’ of the perceptible and cognitive world, as it exists under neo-liberal globalization (2003: 238-239).
In our conception of this seminar we are also attentive to the call made at the 35th session of the UNESCO General Conference in Paris, in October 2009, where it was proposed that ‘renewed reflection and action’ be directed towards the theme of a ‘reconciled universal’, which would help ‘renew[ing] the intellectual and moral solidarity required to meet the challenges faced by humanity today’ (2009:1). The UNESCO initiative, articulated against the backdrop of the global economic crisis, the transformations wrought by developments in science and technology, the growth of identitarian movements, and increasing economic inequality, seeks to forge a ‘new solidarity’ between ‘humans and our planet, and the formulation of new paradigms based on humanism and a re-evaluation of the relationship between culture and development’ (2009:2).
Of relevance here is UNESCO’s grounding of this initiative in a re-examination of the work of Tagore, Neruda and Cèsaire. It claims that their activism and literary work challenged the contradictions of an unequal and unfair world system and developed a new understanding of their society and the world in order to establish a concrete and universal humanism. The work and paths of these three major writers are a reflection at the highest level of the interrelationship between the universal and the particular in understanding the complex processes of modernity. (2009:2)
The timeliness of the UNESCO initiative cannot be denied, coming as it does on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth (2011) and approaching the 100th anniversary of the birth of Cèsaire (2013). It is the convergence of their concerns, with those of Pablo Neruda, on subjects such as colonialism, fascism, race and imperialism that bring these three poets together in this project. Another shared feature is that all three hail from the global south, identify with it, and speak for and from it.
Our seminar will seek to productively explore the tensions that animate the space between our key concerns: that of affirming a reconciled humanism, while simultaneously exploring the critical potentialities of a view from the south. The significant transitions we hope to initiate include the following:
1.‘Appropriating’ the work of these writers and that of those associated with them as belonging to, and, articulating the aspirations of the peoples of the global south;
2.Pressing therefore for a research agenda attentive to the particularities of the south—and to examining these from the south—i.e., creating south-south perspectives (see Tejaswini Niranjana, 2006);
3.Creating localized, yet inter-connected epistemologies of the region (the Antilles, Africa, Latin America and Asia), which move beyond the hierarchized binaries of the north-south divide;
4.Examining these writers and their work in the context of the specific political, economic, social, and not least, geographic terrains within which their work is situated;
5.Paying particular attention firstly, to the specificities of the colonial histories which these writers engaged with (Indian and Asian, Chilean and Latin American, Francophone and African) and, secondly, to the varied idioms of nationalism, internationalism, politicization, and collectivism that they were part of, and articulated;
6.Re-visiting through our attention to these writers, the networks and collectivities that they attempted to forge as modes of opposition to the dominant logics of imperialism, fascism and capitalism. In this regard, we will examine:
(i)Tagore’s pan-Asianism represented through his fascination with Japanese art and his relationship with the Japanese artist, Okakura Tenshin, and which, arguably, found fruition in the Bandung Summit of Non-Aligned nations in 1955. Tagore’s pan-Asianism is in consonance with his critique of nationalism and his espousal of humanism (see Rustom Bharucha, 2006);
(ii) Neruda’s politicization as a consequence of his experience of the Spanish Civil War and his encounters with Communism and Communist thinkers; his time in Madrid and Barcelona where he became a member of a circle of writers including Spain’s Frederico Garcia Lorca, and the Peruvian poet Cèsar Vallejo; his career as a Chilean politician and diplomat;
(iii)Cèsaire’s introduction to the idea/philosophy of Negritude through his encounter with Africa, in the person of the Senegalese writer and politicial figure, Leopold Sedar Senghor, while a student in Paris in the 1930s. Negritude sought to rehabilitate Africa, and make it the mainstay of the identity of Africans and of those belonging to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora (Maryse Conde, 2004).
7.Exploring both the possibilities and contradictions implicit in Negritude and pan-Africanism, nationalism and pan-Asianism, anti-fascist communism, and humanism;
8.Considering the colonial and metropolitan circuits these writers traversed, in order to examine the relationship between ideas of home, colony and metropolis, the home/colony as the space of ‘bastardization’ or alternately ‘metissage’ as most visible in Cèsaire and Édouard Glissant respectively;
9.Reviewing European modernism as construction through an examination of the energizing contributions of all three writers and their cohort. There is substantial literature on surrealism and its development via the inputs of the writers, artists and musicians from the US, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia;
10.Reviewing Padagogic Practice Vis-a Vis these writers texts and creating padagogic models whereby new circuits of meaning-making might be energized
Bharucha, Rustom. Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Conde, Maryse. “The Stealers of Fire: The French Speaking Writers of the Caribbean and their Strategies of Liberation.” Journal of Black Studies 35, no.2. (2004): 154-64.
de Sousa Santos, Boaventura. “The World Social Forum: Towards a Counter-Hegemonic Globalisation, Part I.” 2003.
“Beyond Abyssal Thinking: From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledge.” Review, January 30, 2007.
Niranjana, Tejaswini. Mobilizing India: Women, Music and Migration between India and Trinidad. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.
UNESCO. “Rabindranath Tagore, Pablo Neruda and Aimè Cèsaire for a Reconciled Universal”. 35 C/ 53. UNESCO General Conference, Paris, 12 October 2009, pp.1-6.
The seminar will be organized and hosted by the Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla in collaboration with the Department of Culture, Government of India, and UNESCO.
We plan to invite twenty panelists who will speak on about 6 panels organized over three days.
October 4-6, 2011
Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
The research papers generated from the seminar will be published as an edited volume. In addition, the conference report will be published on the IIAS and UNESCO websites.
Dr. Anita Cherian, Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study.
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