South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - The Mind, the Modern and the Puthi: The Problem of Bengali Muslim Literary Historiography 1964-1981

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Juniper, New Building

This paper explores how two influential interventions in Bangladeshi literary history – by Anisuzzaman and Sofa – problematized the categories of a previously naturalized historiography, effectively exploding literary-historiographical debate into a confrontation with the meaning (and possibilities) of modernity. Anisuzzaman challenged prevailing notions that envisioned the archive of premodern Bengali literature (puthisahitya) as the intimately inhabitable locus of a Bengali spirit. Instead, he celebrated the deployment of modern literary forms by Bengali Muslims as moments when the limitations of an over-determining equation of identity and form were overcome. For Anisuzzaman, nineteenth century author Mir Mosharraf Hossein’s struggle to rewrite the episode of Karbala – so central to puthi narratives – in the novel form redoubled as the story of the conquest of modernity: the movement from marked medieval formalism to unmarked modern autonomy. In The Bengali Muslim mind (1981), Sofa inverted this narrative by substituting the entrapment of a “wounded memory” for Anisuzzaman’s modernist optimism. Sofa argued Bengali Muslim literature, including Hossein’s novel, carried the imprint of past caste trauma. What appeared to be historical change needed to be understood as the enactment of repetition compulsion by a traumatized subject. I contend that these two interventions had thoroughly displaced the ostensible subject of investigation, rendering history itself problematic. The specific problem of Mir Mosharaf Hossein’s relationship to puthisahitya had given way to incommensurable takes on the possibility of history. 

Thomas Newbold

University of Chicago, United States

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2 - The Mind, the Modern and the Puthi: The Problem of Bengali Muslim Literary Historiography 1964-1981



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Send Email for The Mind, the Modern and the Puthi: The Problem of Bengali Muslim Literary Historiography 1964-1981