Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste

Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste

Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste

Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste


Untouchable Fictions considers the crisis of literary realism--progressive, rural, regionalist, experimental--in order to derive a literary genealogy for the recent explosion of Dalit ("untouchable caste") fiction. Drawing on a wide array of writings from Premchand and Renu in Hindi to Mulk Raj Anand and V. S. Naipaul in English, Gajarawala illuminates the dark side of realist complicity: a hidden aesthetics and politics of caste. How does caste color the novel? What are its formal tendencies? What generic constraints does it produce? Untouchable Fictions juxtaposes the Dalit text and its radical critique with a history of progressive literary movements in South Asia. Gajarawala reads Dalit writing dialectically, doing justice to its unique and groundbreaking literary interventions while also demanding that it be read as an integral moment in the literary genealogy of the 20th and 21st centuries. This book, grounded in the fields of postcolonial theory, South Asian literatures, and cultural studies, makes a crucial intervention into studies of literary realism and will be important for all readers interested in the problematic relations between aesthetics and politics and between social movements and cultural production.


The poet is now reflecting not so much on social conditions, as on
how to speak of it.

—ANIKET JAAWARE, “Eating, and Eating with, the Dalit”

The traces to be found in the material and the technical procedures,
from which every qualitatively new work takes its lead, are scars:
They are the loci at which the preceding works misfired.

—THEODOR ADORNO, Aesthetic Theory

In Dalit literature, everything is metanarrative. Born from the selfconsciousness of any literature of radical protest, Dalit (untouchable caste) literature, engendered by caste oppression and caste consciousness, occasions a self-reflexivity that works at several levels: language and metaphor, political philosophy, and literary production. But its metanarrativity is unusual in that it is firmly cast in an aesthetics of modern realism, both derivative and new, individualized and collective.

Largely a product of the last two decades, Dalit literature has flourished in the Hindi language, across the Hindi belt, in the form of short stories, novels, autobiographies and poetry, generating its own literary apparatus of presses, journals, literary criticism and conferences. This body of work follows the traditions established by Dalit literature in other regional languages—particularly that of Marathi— that date to the mid-nineteenth century and took modern form alongside the political rise of the father of the Dalit movement, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956). Dalit literature is characterized as a literature of protest and historical revisionism, typically with an emphasis on the documentation of the violence, oppression, and structural . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.