Towards An Aesthetic of Dalit Literature

Towards An Aesthetic of Dalit Literature

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Author: Sharankumar Limbale
Translator(s): Alok Mukherjee
Publisher: Orient Longman
Year: 2012
Language: English
Pages: 176
ISBN/UPC (if available): 81-250-2656-8


Dalit Literature represents a powerful, emerging trend in the Indian literary scene. Given its overarching preoccupations with the location of Dalits in the caste-based Hindu society, and their struggles for dignity, justice and equality, this literature is by nature oppositional. With the growing translation of works by Dalit writers from various regional languages into English, Dalit literature is poised to acquire a national and an international presence as well as to pose a major challenge to the established notions of what constitutes literature and how we read it.

Sharankumar Limbale's Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, controversies and Considerations, the first critical work by an eminent Dalit writer to appear in English, is a provocative and thoughtful account of the debates among Dalit writers on how Dalit literature should be read. In this book, Limbale explores several crucial questions:

What is Dalit literature?
What are its concerns and features?
What aesthetic considerations should be taken into account in interpreting Dalit writing?
Is it appropriate to apply to Dalit literature the criteria used in assessing the work of non-Dalit writes generally, and high-caste Hindu writes in particular?
Who is a Dalit, anyway?

Limbale questions the applicability of the triadic concept of satyam, shivam and sundaram-the foundation of traditional Hindu aesthetics-to Dalit literary productions. And in doing so, the book talks back to the universalist assertions of India's dominant-group literary theorists. The conclusions Limbale draws and the case that he makes regarding the distinct purpose, politics and poetics of Dalit literature are relevant to the work of Dalit writers from all parts of India.
This book includes an extensive interview with the author, an exhaustive bibliography, and critical commentary by the translator, Alok Mukherjee.

The front cover photograph depicts martin, a Dalit Christian mridangam-makers, at work. The Dalit Craftsperson who produces the mridangam does not participate in the Brahman-dominated aesthetic world of Carnatic music, a classical art form of South India. The mridangams owe their musicality to the little recognized craft honed by a family of Dalits-to which Martin belongs-over seven generations. Cowhide, tabooed among Brahmanical castes, goes into the making of the double-headed leather drum.


Limbale is at once a writer, a critic and a historian, and his criticism and history of the Dalit literature movement is as starkly realistic as his autobiographical novel of untouchable life. He presents a new set of criteria by which to judge Dalit (and Black) writing: a separate aesthetic that involves social circumstance, the affirmation of life, the search for freedom, and above all humanism. Limbale also urges the convergence of anti-caste Ambedkarism and anti-class Marxism, and delineates the history of both wings of the Dalit movement without fear or favour! He worries about Dalit literature becoming stagnant, notes the love-hate relation of dalits with Hindus, understands the aggression of caste. Hindus as coming in direct proportion to the degree of aggressiveness in Dalits, and proclaims the need for writing that looks to the future. There is no better way to understand the vastly important Dalit literature movement that is now sweeping across India than to read Mukherjee's fine translation of Limbale's Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature.
-Eleanor Zelliot

As yet very little Dalit writing is available in English translation and hardly any literary criticism from within the Dalit community. By translating Limbale's Dalit Sahityache Saundaryashastra, Alok Mukherjee has filled a gap. The translator's introduction and detailed interview with the author will provide the uninitiated with the historical background and context of Dalit writing in Maharashtra.
-Meenakshi Mukherjee




Reading Sharankumar Limbale's Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: From Erasure to Assertion
About Dalit Literature
Dalit Literature: Form and Purpose
Dalit Literature and Ambedkarism
Dalit Literature and Marxism
Dalit Literature and African American Literature
Dalit Literature and Aesthetics
Dalit Literature Today: A Conversation with Sharankumar Limbale


Works Cited

Further Reading: A Select List of Dalit Literature