Programme for 3rd Symposium, on Reassessments, 2nd – 3rd February 2017

Programme for the 3rd Symposium in the ‘Literary Activism’ series, on Reassessments, hosted by the UEA Centre for the Creative and the Critical at Presidency University, Calcutta.


From an interview with DUBRAVKA UGREŠIĆ in Verbivoracious:


VP Editors: Can you start by telling me a little about your interest in literary activism, and what revelations sprang from the Kolkata conference you mentioned attending last year?


DU: Literary activism, as I see it, is supposed to be a useful corrector of mainstream literary values, a reminder and promoter of unknown literary territories. Literary activism is supposed to break our comfortable and rigid mainstream opinions, to shake up our literary tastes and standards, to promote unknown writers and neglected literary territories, to bring new knowledge about literature. The role of literary activism is irreplaceable especially today…


Neither academic conference nor literary festival, these symposiums are part of a series of worldwide conversations and debates engaged in by writers, artists, poets, academics, and publishers on creative practice today.




Literary and intellectual history is neither an evolution nor a linear movement. It’s a narrative of stops and starts, mainly because it’s shaped by, and dependent on, reassessment. All kinds of reassessment punctuate literary and intellectual history, but, to me, one of the most interesting has to do with a refutation of the theoretical, and with the reclamation of precursors earlier thought to be antagonists; of neglected or once-disdained practices; of sensuousness; of minor figures. For examples of how such movements are generated, we could go back to Nietzsche drawing attention, in The Birth of Tragedy, to the way the moral-ethical-intellectual Socrates turned to music-making in prison in the days before his death. Or, more recently, we might think of Ranajit Guha’s short book, History at the Limits of World-History, and note not only the precedence this Subaltern Studies founding father gives to poetic language over history-writing late in his life, but also the bewildered response of those who followed and admired Guha’s work.


For me, then, ‘reassessment’ comprises an opening-up that’s disorienting and possibly utopian, and which has a particular role to play today, in the years after the waning of critical theory. It belongs to a tradition of argument, dissent and possible anti-idealism, which asks us to understand the turn in terms that go beyond the nationalistic or the celebration of the little, the small, the vernacular. I’m thinking now of poets like Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney, both of whom rejected the influence of W B Yeats for relatively minor poets like Thomas Hardy and Patrick Kavanagh; of Ezra Pound, who said to an important forbear at a certain point in his life, ‘I make a truce with you, Walt Whitman -/ I have detested you long enough’; or of the artist Jamini Roy, who turned from his academic training in European realism to the Kalighat patuas. ‘Reassessment’ asks us to read these gestures – and our own gestures and turnings away – as being more than conventionally political or aesthetic. What sort of creative and intellectual history are they making a case for?


Amit Chaudhuri, Calcutta


Venue: Aroon Kumar Basak Memorial Auditorium, Presidency University


2nd February

10.45 am – opening remarks, Prof. Anuradha Lohia, Amit Chaudhuri
11.00 am – 11.45 am – Prof. Simon During, ‘Christian culture? Rereading the late T.S.Eliot in dangerous times’      
Chair: Lucy Hughes-Hallett

12 pm – 12.45 pm – Jessa Crispin, ‘Reloading the Canon: Rethinking Greatness in an Age of Identity Politics’       
Chair: Tiffany Atkinson


2 – 2.45 pm – Anjali Joseph: ‘Madame Bovary and the impossibility of re-reading’
Chair: Jon Cook

3 – 3.45 pm – Saikat Majumdar: ‘Literature as sin’    
Chair: Sumit Chakrabarti

Coffee break

4.15 – 5 pm, Marco Roth: ‘Not Even The Past is Safe: Some observations on anachronic styles in the contemporary literary essay’
Chair: Amit Chaudhuri


3rd February

11.00 am – 11.45 am – Prof. Simon Glendinning – ‘Beyond Eurocentrism and Anti-Eurocentrism’      
Chair: Anupama Mohan

12 pm – 12.45 pm – Arvind Krishna Mehrotra – ‘Reshma Aquil of Daryabad’
Chair: Jon Cook

2 – 2.45 pm – Amit Chaudhuri, ‘Possible, not Alternative, Histories’
Chair: Simon Glendinning

3 – 3.45 pm – Karthika Nair – ‘True Lies: The Licence to Create & Kill in Adaptations’        
Chair: Saikat Majumdar

Coffee break

4.15 – 5 pm, Prof Jon Cook, Closing Address

Evening sessions at Oxford Bookstore, 6.30 pm, on 2nd and 3rd February

2nd February: ‘The Persistence of Poetry’. Poets and academics from India, the UK, and Australia on how we define the poetic today.


Karthika Nair, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Tiffany Atkinson, Simon During, Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Moderator: Anjum Katyal


3rd February: ‘The Essay Today’. Writers, novelists, and editors from India and the US speak on their use of or encounter with the form.


Marco Roth, Jessa Crispin, Saikat Majumdar, Anjali Joseph, Amit Chaudhuri
Moderator: Alex Traub


Notes on Speakers and Participants


Tiffany Atkinson is a Professor of Creative Writing (Poetry) at UEA. She has published three poetry collections, Kink and Particle (2006), Catulla et al (2011), and So Many Moving Parts (2014). Kink and Particle  won the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and became a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Catulla et al is a modern rendering of the poetry of Catullus.


Sumit Chakrabarti is Head of the Department at the English faculty, Presidency University. His doctoral thesis, which is now a book, was on the representational dynamics of three Third-World intellectuals (Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha) in the First-World academy.


Amit Chaudhuri is a novelist, essayist, musician, and Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia.


Jon Cook is Professor of Literature at UEA, Director of the Centre for Creative and Performing Arts and, with Amit Chaudhuri, joint director of the UEA/India project. He is completing a book on 20th Century Poetics. His publications include a biography, Hazlitt in Love, and Poetry in Theory.


Jessa Crispin is the founder and editor of the magazines and She is the author of The Dead Ladies Project, published by The University of Chicago Press, and The Creative Tarot, published by Touchstone. 


Simon During is a Research Professor at the University of Queensland. He has contributed to scholarship on postcolonialism, cultural studies, literary theory and modern British literary history. His books include Modern Enchantments: the cultural power of secular magic and Against Democracy: literary experience in the era of emancipations.

Simon Glendinning is Professor of European Philosophy at the European Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of a number of books and articles on European phenomenology but has recently turned his attention to developing what can be called a phenomenology of Europe. He has just completed a two-volume book on this theme, entitled Europe’s Promise, for Oxford University Press. The first volume should appear this year.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett is a Britishcultural historian and biographer. Her first book, Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions (1990), examining the historical background and cultural myths inspired by Cleopatra, won the Fawcett Prize and the Emily Toth Award. Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen, was published in 2004. Her biography of Gabriele D’Annunzio, The Pike: Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War, appeared in 2013. It won the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction as well as the Costa Book Award. She lives in London and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


Anjali Joseph was born in Bombay and read English at Trinity College, Cambridge. She taught English at the Sorbonne and worked for the Times of India and ELLE magazine in Bombay. Her first novel, Saraswati Park, appeared in 2010 and won the Bety Trask Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize, and the Vodafone Crossword Book Award for Fiction. Her second novel, Another Country, appeared in 2012, and The Living, her third novel, was published last year.


Anjum Katyal is a poet, writer, translator, blues singer, and formerly chief editor of Seagull Books. She is a director of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival.

Saikat Majumdar is a novelist and critic. His most recent book is the novel, The Firebird (forthcoming in the US as Play House in April), one of The Telegraph’s Best Books of 2015. He has also published a book of criticism, Prose of the World, which received Honorable Mention at the Modernist Studies Association’s Annual book Prize, and an earlier novel, Silverfish. He lives in Delhi and is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Ashoka University.​

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s most recent book is Collected Poems. ​He is also the translator of The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry and Songs of Kabir, and editor of the Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets. He lives in Dehradun.


Anupama Mohan‘s specialisation is postcolonial theory and literatures, cultural studies, continental philosophy, and the history of ideas. Her book Utopia and the Village in South Asian Literatures was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012. Utopia was nominated for the MLA First Book Prize as well as the ICAS Book Prize in 2013, and reviews of the book have appeared in eminent journals in the field. She is also a poet and short story writer, and her first volume of poetry (Twenty Odd Love Poems) was published by The Writer’s Workshop in 2008. 


Poet and dance producer, Karthika Naïr is the author of four books, including the award-winning Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata and The Honey Hunter, a children’s story illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet. She was also the principal story and script writer of DESH (2011) and Chotto Desh (2015),  choreographer Akram Khan’s dance-theatre shows.


Marco Roth, native of New York City is an editor and co-founder of the magazine n+1, a thrice yearly journal of politics, literature and culture. He believes in the essay as an opportunity to explore the unexpected connections between things and his work in the magazine and elsewhere ranges widely over subjects that include cigarettes, cities, cloning, drone warfare. literature.His memoir of a sentimental education at the tail end of New York’s AIDS crisis, "The Scientists: A Family Romance," was published in 2012 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Alex Traub works and writes for the Telegraph in Calcutta. He was formerly on the editorial staff of the New York Review of Books.