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Progressive Feeling: Visceral Realisms and Marxists Aesthetics in the Literature of Decolonizing India

ASE Commons

Neetu Khanna (USC Dornsife Comparative Literature) presents Progressive Feeling: Visceral Realisms and Marxist Aesthetics in the Literature in the Literature of Decolonizing India.

This discussion returns to the anti-colonial artistic movement of the All-India Progressive Writers Association (PWA), a transnational Marxist Indian literary group writing from the 1930’s through the 1950s.  This talk draws from my current book project which demonstrates, counter to contemporary dismissals of the PWA as Socialist propagandists or didactic Marxists, how the literature of the Progressive Writers became the experimental staging ground for a rich exploration of racialized emotion, as they imagined alternative sensibilities of national and diasporic belonging in their fiction. 


Although glaringly absent within the field of diaspora and postcolonial studies, the Progressive Writers Association inaugurated an extremely influential artistic movement which animated debates surrounding the politics of decolonization in India and abroad throughout its transition to independence.  As I position this movement within its broader diasporic and transnational frame, this book argues that the Progressive Writers movement cannot be isolated from both the global Marxist movements against imperialism and fascism, and their artistic ties with European modernist movements, of which they saw themselves a part.  By attending to the transnational influences through which Marxist discourses of the body are mobilized and re-signified within these anti-colonial imaginings, the book demonstrates that the question of what would define literature as “progressive” for the PWA brings us to the group’s dynamic aesthetic grapplings with what would constitute revolutionary feelings.