South Asia Seminar: “The Postman and the Tramp: Cynicism, Commitment, and the Aesthetics of Subaltern Futurity”
Toral Gajarawala, Associate Prof, Comparative Literature, NYU
This paper will consider two dialectical strains in the battle for representation of the “the caste question” by examining recent attempts to rethink the dissemination of knowledge of caste atrocity. I will mention here Meera Kandasamy’s recent The Gypsy Goddess, which takes up the Kilvenmani massacre of 1968 in rural Tamil Nadu, and the new YouTube channel “Dalit Camera”, which features videos on caste conflict in various contexts, including the village and the university. Kandasamy’s novel begins with the directive to “F*** the postmodern novel” while engaging in a series of formalist and generic ruptures to traditional narrative. The text functions as a retelling of tragedy, a critical appraisal of the role of communism in Dalit movements, as well as a mediation on the limitations of the novel, interspersed as it is with Twitter feeds and newspaper headlines. Dalit Camera follows a strictly documentarist vision, using unedited interviews and other techniques of ethnography. It relies primarily on volunteers, who use donated equipment to track stories ignored in the mainstream media, and to translate witness statements. “The camera has become a tool for our self-respect,” says founder Bathran Ravichandran. This paper will use these ‘texts’ to think through the ideological and aesthetic range of the casteist contemporaneity. Largely revisionist in its approach and presentist in its outlook, I want to ask what kind of radical futurity might be envisioned by the Dalit text, in the form of the novelistic collage, as well as the retro camera.