Writing the First Person: Book Discussion

As a part of Ecologies of Democracy Book Discussion Series, a book discussion on Writing the First Person: Literature, History and Autobiography in Modern Kerala authored by Udaya Kumar was held on 20 March 2017 at CSDS. The discussion was chaired by Prathama Banerjee. The discussants included V. Sanil and Mohinder Singh.

Reading through a variety of late 19th and early 20th century texts–anti-caste writings, spiritual meditations, social reform tracts, monologic poetry and early novels–Udaya Kumar asks how and why self-writing becomes crucial to modernity in Kerala. Udaya complicates the question of identity – caste, community, nation – by showing that we ‘inhabit’ our identities by fashioning a relationship, not just with the other, but with the self.  He also discusses how languages of self-reflexivity emerge historically, making particular ideas and concepts thinkable in a particular language.  Above all, he questions the binaries like self/other, public/private, individual/community etc, by showing how self-writing works not via pure introspection, but through ‘gestures of extrospection’, whereby the inner world comes to be ‘inscribed on the surface of things, as produced through actions and utterances in a field of mutual exposure and unevenly shared visibility’. The book Writing the First Person compels us to rethink philosophy, history and aesthetics by engaging with the intellectual and expressive potentials of a vernacular thought-world. 

Udaya Kumar is Professor at Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

V. Sanil is Professor of Philosophy at Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi.

Mohinder Singh is Assistant Professor at Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Prathama Banerjee is Associate Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Monday, 20 March 2017
5 pm, CSDS Seminar Room