Baidik Bhattacharya, "Colonialism, World Literature, and the Making of the Modern Culture of Letters" (Cambridge UP, 2024)


In a radical and ambitious reconceptualization of the field, Colonialism, World Literature, and the Making of the Modern Culture of Letters (Cambridge UP, 2024) argues that global literary culture since the eighteenth century was fundamentally shaped by colonial histories. By introducing the concept of ‘literary sovereignty’, the book argues that political sovereignty in colonial India went hand in hand with a massive project of textually understanding local cultures that colonial officials encountered. This in turn gave rise to paradigms such as those of comparison, fields of study such as literary history and most importantly – world literature. It offers a comprehensive account of the colonial inception of the literary sovereign – how the realm of literature was thought to be separate from history and politics – and then follows that narrative through a wide array of different cultures, multilingual archives, and geographical locations. Providing close studies of colonial archives, German philosophy of aesthetics, French realist novels, and English literary history, this book shows how colonialism shaped and reshaped modern literary cultures in decisive ways. It breaks fresh ground across disciplines such as literary studies, anthropology, history, and philosophy, and invites one to rethink the history of literature in a new light. The book also offers us tools to decolonise literary studies by highlighting the genealogies of modern ideas of world literature and comparative literature that are rooted in European colonialism.

Baidik Bhattacharya works at the crossroads of literary studies, social sciences, and philosophy. His first book, Postcolonial Writing in the Era of World Literature: Texts, Territories, Globalizations (Routledge, 2018), explores the debates surrounding two dynamic fields-postcolonial studies and world literature. Contrary to many dominant narratives in critical theory, the book asserts that as an analytical framework the idea of world literature is dead: the nineteenth-century ideal of world literature had always and already been embedded in colonial histories; and, in our contemporary times, the promise of that ideal has been exhausted by postcolonial Anglophone literature. Through fresh and incisive readings of the postcolonial canon and some of its most prominent authors like Rudyard Kipling, V. S. Naipaul, J. M. Coetzee, and Salman Rushdie, the volume discusses how these Anglophone writings have used the banal and ordinary ideal of world literature to fashion out their own trajectories.

Bhattacharya is the co-editor of two volumes: Baidik Bhattacharya and Sambudha Sen (eds.) Novel Formations: The Indian Beginnings of a European Genre (Permanent Black, 2018); Baidik Bhattacharya and Neelam Srivastava (eds.) The Postcolonial Gramsci (Routledge, 2012).

His other works have appeared in Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Interventions, Postcolonial Studies among other places.

Bhattacharya has held visiting scholarships at the University of Virginia and the University of Western Cape. He serves on the editorial board of the journal Postcolonial Studies.

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