The Art of Opposition: Progressive Politics and Poetry from 1931-47
Mirza Jaffer Abid
Committee Chair: Carollee Bengelsdorf Member: Uditi Sen
For Nana, who survived not one but two partitions. And Anas, whose daily life was partitioned.
Speak, for truth is living yet. Speak, whatever must be said. − - Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Table of Contents 1. Introduction 2. Chapter 1: A Pleasant Conversation 3. Chapter 2: Returning 4. Chapter 3: Translating the Nation 5. Chapter 4: When Lines are Drawn 6. Chapter 5: Lal Singh's Encounter with Modernity 7. Conclusion 8. Bibliography 4 14 36 67 85 107 129 136
Introduction It is a spirit in opposition, rather than in accommodation, that grips me because the romance, the interest, the challenge of intellectual life is to be founding dissent against the status quo at a time when the struggle on behalf of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups seems so unfairly weighted against them. - Edward Said Representation of the Intellectual In The Progressive Writers Association, therefore, we have the broadest organization of the Intellectuals of India, the largest bloc of writers who, what ever the difference in their standpoints, whatever their contradiction of philosophical, religious and cultural belief, join for common actions, in the defence of our old culture and the development, through a proper criticism of the past, of a new culture. In this Association, scholars, poets, novelists, essayists and lay readers, all stand united for the winning of our right to the democratic ideal, and to the economic, political and cultural freedom of India. - Mulk Raj Anand On the Progressive Writers Movement In 1991, the eminent scholar, critic and Palestinian intellectual Edward Said gave a series of lectures for the B.B.C. entitled Representations of the Intellectual. In these talks, later published as a collection of essays, Said laid out the many interpretations and roles of intellectuals. He cites first the Italian Marxist philosopher and working-class organizer Anotonio Gramsci, from whom he borrows the concepts of the “traditional” and “organic” intellectual. The 'traditional' intellectual is someone who fulfills the same function from generation to generations; teachers, priests and academics. “Organic” intellectuals, on the other hand, are those directly connected with a class. This brand of intellectuals require the labor of fellow organic intellectuals for their work, the way “the capitalist entrepreneur creates alongside himself the industrial technician, the specialist in political economy, the organizers of a new culture, of a new legal system, etc.” Said then shifts his attention to the French novelist and philosopher Julien Benda, from whose work he adopts his second formulation of the intellectual. For Benda, intellectuals are a small band of elite philosopher kings who “constitute the conscience of mankind.” (Said, 1991, 5) Unlike Gramsci, Benda believed that only a select few, highly skilled individuals, were fit for 4
performing intellectual activity. Said's own perspective on the intellectual moves beyond these two descriptions of the intellectual. For him, the importance of the intellectual is not his/her role in society as it is for Gramsci and Benda, but the position they occupy in respect to the functioning norms of their society. Intellectuals are those people who, when motivated by justice, will rise in defence of the weak and defy the structures of authority. It is not so much the duty of the intellectual, but their moral obligation, to champion the cause of the exploited and oppressed. About sixty years before Said wrote this, a group of young Indian students convened at the back room of a Chinese restaurant on London's Denmark Street. Inspired by European intellectual activity in the thirties against fascism, these students decided to form their own group of writers, for the purpose of “... liberate[ing] literature and the other fine arts from the...
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