on being an Indian writer

27172664862_eafbf5baf9_zAmit Chaudhuri at n+1:

THE IMPORTANT EUROPEAN NOVELIST makes innovations in the form; the important Indian novelist writes about India. This is a generalization, and not one that I believe. But it represents an unexpressed attitude that governs some of the ways we think of literature today. The first half of the sentence can be changed in response to developments in the new millennium to include “American”; in fact, to allow “American” to replace “European.” The second half should accommodate, along with India, Africa and even Australia. We arguably go to an Australian novel because it asserts Australian characteristics, and Australian characteristics are analogous to what we already know from the newly discovered worlds and continents of the last two hundred years. If an Australian novel is formally innovative, the innovations will exemplify its New World or postcolonial or vivid non-metropolitan features. The innovations of a European novel, on the other hand, are not an assertion of Europe, but deal directly and exclusively with the form of the novel itself. The sequence of deduction moves here in the opposite direction—a major European novelist makes formal innovations; pure formal innovation is a characteristic of European culture (rather than a political expression of Europeanness). If we find formal innovations in a non-European novelist, modulations on form unrelated to, say, identity, difference, or colonial history, we might say, “This novelist has a European air.” We could say the same about the more formally ambitious of the recent American writers, whose innovations are unrelated to Americana: that they are, in some ways, Europeans from, say, Brooklyn. At the moment, though, because of the centrality in the Anglophone world of the USA and of New York, we don’t think of innovations in fiction emerging from these locations as being primarily connected to what it means to be a New Yorker, or an American—we think of them as formal innovations in themselves. The American writer has succeeded the European writer. The rest of us write of where we come from.

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