SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Archipelagic theory and multilingual poetry


Date: 9 January 2019Time: 3:00 PM

Finishes: 9 January 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Faber Building, 23/24 Russell Square Room: FG01

Type of Event: Talk

Speaker: Anjali Nerlekar (Rutgers University, New Jersey)

The poet Arun Kolatkar’s work is umbilically connected to the city of Bombay and his poetry reflects the "condition of ‘situated multiplicity” (Ash Amin) that marks the city. Monolingual readings fall considerably short of this complexity since a of literature since they make invisible large swathes of experience, texts, lives that suddenly emerge into view when we adopt a multilingual reading practice. The idea of the multilingual readings leading to a "tangible yet transient local" (as shown in my first book, Bombay Modern) is an attempt to overcome the monochromatic view of this diverse work.

In this talk, I am trying to see if archipelagic theory might supplement the multilingual reading of Kolatkar's bilingual work. It can help to generate a robust yet mobile sense of the location and of the materiality of the poetic act and thus provide a vocabulary to describe the uniqueness of Indian modernism that is exhibited in Kolatkar's work. The emphasis here is on the material connective tissue—in the case of the Bombay islands, the sea between them as well as the reclaimed land that joins the seven separate islands; and in the case of Kolatkar's poem, what it is that brings together the languages, the space, the people, the national and the international slice of time in one meaningful whole.

An archipelagic approach insists on a geocultural and geotemporal frame and thus enables a reading that emerges from the material "inside," even if it is never quite restricted to that singular location. An archipelagic reading of such Bombay poetry will allow for both a study of regional exchanges and trajectories that cross the poem as well as national and international exchanges that mark its existence. It allows for a reading practice of rooted itinerancy that is needed to engage with the complex modernity of such texts.


Anjali Nerlekar is Associate Professor of South Asian Literature in the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures (AMESALL) at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Her research interests include multilingual Indian modernisms, Marathi literature, Indo-Caribbean literature, World literature, Translation Studies, Caribbean and Postcolonial Studies, Indian print culture, and Archipelagic Studies. She is the author of Bombay Modern: Arun Kolatkar and Bilingual Literary Culture (Northwestern University Press, 2016) and co-editor, with Laetitia Zecchini, of a special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing (2017) on “The Worlds of Bombay Poetry.” She is currently working on a project (with Dr. Bronwen Bledsoe at Cornell University South Asia collections) to build an archive of multilingual post-1960 Bombay poetry at Cornell University, and working on a cartographic and archipelagic study of Indo-Caribbean writing.

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