Native Intelligence: Aesthetics, Politics, and Postcolonial Literature

Native Intelligence: Aesthetics, Politics, and Postcolonial Literature

Native Intelligence: Aesthetics, Politics, and Postcolonial Literature

Native Intelligence: Aesthetics, Politics, and Postcolonial Literature


A compelling reclamation of the place of aesthetics in postcolonial literature. "Literature" though it may be, postcolonial literature is studied and understood largely--and often solely--in social and political terms. In neglecting its aesthetic dimension, as this book forcefully demonstrates, we are overlooking not only an essential aspect of this literature but even a critical perspective on its sociopolitical function and value. In Native Intelligence, Deepika Bahri focuses on postcolonial literature's formal and aesthetic negotiations with sociopolitical concerns. How, Bahri asks, do aesthetic considerations contest the social function of postcolonial literature? In answering, her book takes on two tasks: First, it identifies the burden of representation borne by post-colonial literature through its progressive politicization. Second, it draws on Frankfurt School critical theory to reclaim a place for aesthetics in literary representation by closely engaging works of Rohinton Mistry, Salman Rushdie, and Arundhati Roy. Throughout, Bahri shows how attention to the aesthetic innovations and utopian impulses of postcolonial works uncovers their complex and uneven relationship to ideology, reanimating their potential to make novel contributions to the larger project of social liberation.


The third-world novel will not offer the satisfactions of Proust
or Joyce.

—Fredric Jameson, “Third World Literature
in the Era of Multinational Capitalism”

One paints a painting, not what it represents.

—Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory

The Text in the World

This book is about the crisis of postcolonial literature, manifested in anxiety over its relevance, uncertainty about its value, and suspicions of the death of literature as a significant social form. At a stage in the development of capital when all that is solid seems predictably to be melting into air on a worldwide scale, and artistic expression is increasingly regulated by technological expansion and market considerations, the value of the aesthetic sphere as a distinctive activity threatens to dissolve pari passu. Although various and often mutually contradictory impulses characterize postcolonial theory and criticism, making the term postcolonial notoriously indefinable and definitive claims virtually impossible, it is nevertheless clear that a direct engagement with this crisis has yet to take shape. What is attempted in these pages is a response to the remarkable lack of a sufficiently developed critical framework for addressing “the aesthetic dimension” in Herbert Marcuse's words) of postcolonial literature. Most materialist currents of thought in the past two . . .

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