Between the Epic and the Ordinary: The Politics of Contemporary Indian Urban Writing in English

Date and Time

May 28, 2024

3:45 pm to 5:15 pm


Online via Zoom

Marianne Hillion

Senior Lecturer, English Department, University of Strasbourg

The Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH) invite you to a workshop on:

Between the Epic and the Ordinary: The Politics of Contemporary Indian Urban Writing in English

Speaker: Marianne Hillion, Senior Lecturer, English Department, University of Strasbourg

Tuesday, 28th May 2024, 3:45 PM IST onwards. The event will be held online over Zoom.

About the Talk
While the city has arguably been central to the Indian novel in English since the 1980s, the profusion of urban novels, essays and literary reportages published since the 2000s reveals important formal and thematic shifts in the literary discourse on Indian cities. The presentation will take as its starting point the speaker’s doctoral dissertation, which attempts to locate this literary urban phenomenon in the context of India’s embrace of global capitalism in the 1990s. Based on the study of a corpus of fiction and non-fiction written in the 2000s on Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata (including works by Arundhati Roy, Raj Kamal Jha, Sonia Faleiro, Siddharth Chowdhury), the speaker argues that these texts express the contradictory experience of uneven urban development through the interplay between two major aesthetic modes, the epic and the ordinary. The epic mode defamiliarizes urban modernisation and amplifies the violent collision of antagonistic social forces in the city; the ordinary mode explores this historical process at the scale of the locality through the lens of everyday life and urban dwellers’ below-the-radar make-do tactics. These two modes are distinct ways in which writers challenge orientalist and nationalist discourses on post-liberalisation Indian cities. This presentation will give an overview of these modes through a series of close readings. It will also attempt to place these texts, theoretically and politically, in relation to wider cultural and academic discourses on cities of the global South, as exceptional, futurist or ordinary spaces.

About the Speaker
Marianne Hillion is Senior Lecturer in the English department at the University of Strasbourg and a member of the SEARCH research unit. Based on a historical-materialist approach of texts, her research focuses on the literary representations of post-1990s Indian cities, with a specific focus on nonfiction. She has published several articles on diasporic return writing, the dystopian imagination of Delhi, and the centrality of the neighbourhood (para) in fiction on Kolkata. Since 2019, she has been a co-host of SLAC, a monthly seminar on historical-materialist approaches to literature. A list of her publications is available here.