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The Cold War Poetics of Muktibodh: a Study of Hindi Internationalism, 1943-1964

  • Author(s): Goulding, Gregory Young
  • Advisor(s): Dalmia, Vasudha
  • et al.

My dissertation deals with the poetry, short fiction, and critical writing of

Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh (1917-1964). In my dissertation I argue that Muktibodh's work—in

spite of or even because of its conscious affiliation to a Marxist idea of international revolution

and progress—presents a critique of postcolonial modernity rooted in the experience of the

post-Independence middle class. Through an account of the ways in which his writings were

able to bring into poetic life a range of issues—not least the imagination of an alternative

globality in the wake of Indian independence—a picture emerges of the hopes and anxieties of

an emerging lower middle class beginning to speak on a global stage. My work relies on a

methodology of close readings of Muktibodh's work with an attention to the formal qualities of

language, situated in a theoretical understanding based upon Critical and Postcolonial Theory.

In my first chapter, I discuss the life and reception of Muktibodh, who has been a central figure in Hindi literary criticism since his early death in 1964. In the first part of this chapter I examine Muktibodh's life and career, with special attention to the influence of Central India and its distinct literary culture. I then examine Muktibodh's reception, focusing on two main stages. In the first, roughly within the decade after his death, Muktibodh's works are seen as a referendum on debates over aesthetics and politics that dominated Hindi criticism in the 1950s. In the second, which takes place in the late 1970s, Muktibodh is seen as a uniquely prophetic figure, even as he is reinterpreted to fit contemporary concerns. The second chapter of my dissertation examines Muktibodh's interest in science and technology. This interest, typically overlooked in criticism of Muktibodh, brings into light Muktibodh's engagement with the discourse of science and technology in the context of the Cold War. In this chapter, through the examination of his poetry and fiction, I show how Muktibodh used the language and thematics of science and technology to raise questions about India's new relationship to the international.

The third and fourth chapters of this dissertation analyze in detail the formal evolution of Muktibodh's poetry towards the "Long Poem" for

which he is most known. By tracing the sources of the Long Poem both to the influence of the Chāyāvād [Romantic] poet Jayshankar Prasad, as well as the influence of modernist Marathi poetry on the bilingual Muktibodh, I show how Muktibodh's long poem emerges as a unique form in Hindi modernism, one rooted in the literary culture of Central India in which he worked. This chapter therefore demonstrates the complex networks through which Hindi poetry developed. In my fourth chapter, I compare ``Aṁdhere meṁ,'' which is Muktibodh's most well-known long poem, with the more obscure ``Bhaviṣyadhārā.'' This chapter shows how ``Aṁdhere meṁ,'' even as it depicts a nightmarish version of contemporary reality, takes as its subject the role of the autonomous imagination in engaging with the world. These chapters, in analyzing Muktibodh's long poem, point towards the possibilities of a formal analysis of modernist Hindi poetry, and its importance for understanding larger trends in intellectual, cultural, and literary history.

The final two chapters take up Muktibodh's views towards realism and genre, issues that are present in the discussion of the long poem, but emphasized here in an investigation of his short fiction and criticism. In the fifth

chapter, I use an analysis of several of Muktibodh's short stories in order to examine his ideas about genre, and the problem of a post-Independence reality in which social relations seemed to resist a straightforward, realist depiction. Rather than view Muktibodh's short fiction as unfinished or stagnant, I examine the moments in these stories in which fables, frame stories, and metanarrative devices interrogate ideas of realism. The final sixth chapter of my dissertation analyzes Muktibodh's criticism, showing how he used a critique of Realism to develop an aesthetics centered on the critical imagination. Through an examination of Muktibodh's criticism across his career, I show how a contradiction between narrative and the poetic image eventually develops into an critique of realism, based on readings in Marxist and romantic aesthetic theory.

My research not only contributes to an emerging scholarship of post-Independence Hindi, but also develops an understanding of the contribution of Hindi and other South Asian languages to postcolonial literature. I argue that taking account of Muktibodh's writings is crucial

towards forming a model of World Literature that accounts for the experience of India following independence, and the unique perspectives on the international developed by South Asian literatures. My dissertation therefore acts as a corrective to studies of global modernism that privilege literatures written in European languages and view non-European literatures as

fundamentally local in scope. In addition, by analyzing the unique way in which Muktibodh combined Marxism with a global Hindi internationalism, my dissertation reveals new ways of understanding the literary and intellectual history of the Cold War. Research that situates writers such as Muktibodh in an international context can thus help to illuminate networks of alternative, postcolonial modernisms in the twentieth century.

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