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Friday, January 27, 2012

Reading in India

So while I was thinking and writing about my five competing project questions, I realized that I may be thinking about this incorrectly. I do not think what I am about to write about will actually directly affect my project. I am committed to studying literature-esque things, but I realized that actually trying to approach literature from such a blunt perspective may be the wrong approach in some ways. I was thinking about the things I have been reading and I would like to look into when I was thinking about a book I got, The Adventures of Amir Hamza. It was originally a Persian epic, but it kind of found new life and grew in its Urdu incarnation in the Mughal courts. According to William Dalrymple, the last full version published in Urdu was something like forty volumes. Okay, I am getting sidetracked with fun random facts. The main point is, The Dastaan-i-Amir Hamza for most of its existence has been an oral text. Now I am not saying that I should just scrap books and look at oral literature, folk stories, and gossip, but I think it represents an important paradigm shift that I need to understand before I will be prepared to go to India to actually study things. India has an almost frighteningly immense literary heritage. Mostly unknown to the west there is a canon of sorts of classical Indian writings from the last two and a half thousand years on everything from religion to literature to criticism. The way these things have been transmitted and recorded is in many ways different from how things were done in the West.

I think an important thing to consider for many of my proto-projects is how do Indians feel about knowledge, stories, and literature as topics. I will need a firm understanding of the place they have in Indian society and how they relate to the Indian world view before I will really be able to make sense of any information about literature I collect in the field. It is a question on how they view literature. Most Indian languages have no word for chef. Being a cook is not really a very prestigious career and so the only way to say it in most language is just to say someone who prepares food. Mostly lower caste people prepared food traditionally. Thus there could be something important in the place of the author in Indian society. I suppose another angle to consider is the place of sages like Valmiki who are respected.

Another point brought up in class was that of literacy. Understanding who cannot read could be as important as who can read and what they read. I am very interested in this topic, except I am pretty sure it would make any project I tack it onto way to large to be possible. I might spin it out into a sixth possible project question. Although really it is time to choose, not come up with more. It would be interesting to know what the illiterate feel about reading, their motivations to want to learn to read, why they don't want to read, or what has prevented or is preventing them from being able to read. I wonder what stories and myths they know and how it affects their world view.

Anyhow, overall I think I still know what I want to do. Before I leave I will need to do a bunch of research on this concept of literature and oral tradition and everything to inform my project. I do not know how much these concepts will change my project, but they will definitely inform how I put it together going forward. I will have to contemplate these ideas a lot more.


  1. Sounds interesting. I need to read your project questions to get some concrete ideas behind what you are looking at here, but it looks like you are in a good place.

    And P.S. your "intent" section sort of undermines what you are doing without meaning to, I think. And if I was a reader who just stumbled across your blog I would still have no idea what your actual project is.

    1. hm, good point, I didn't really like it either, I just wanted to start putting things there. I think I will take it down and rethink it for the time being.