"The one from which we aught to learn": What Indian Poets Imagined Latin American Literature Could Do
In 1969, the poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra wrote to his friend Adil Jussawalla "my heart's theory–we're part of Latin America...and their literature is the one from which we aught to learn." While we might think of Salman Rushdie and magical realism as the primary literary articulation points between these two regions, it was Mehrotra, Jussawalla, and their earlier generation of multilingual, polymath artists who pioneered a very different kind of investment in Latin America as a model for how to write "World Literature."
But how did Indian authors get interested in Latin American literature in the fist place? How did they even get their hands on it? And why, over the past 70 years, has writing from a historically unrelated region in an unfamiliar tongue become the premier example – "the one from which we aught to learn" – half a world away? This talk traces the role of poet, essayist, and Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz, the Mexican ambassador to India from 1962-1969, as the nearly invisible engine through this literary imaginary consolidated for writers of Mehrotra's generation, and how his impact continues to be felt in Indian letters today.
Roanne Kantor is an Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University. Her book project, Countershelf: South Asian Authors, Latin American texts, and the Unexpected Journey to Global English, considers the reception of Latin American writing in translation on authors from India and Pakistan, showing how that relationship fundamentally altered the trajectory of South Asian Anglophone literature from the 1960s to the present. Recent scholarship appears in Comparative Literature, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, among others. Kantor is also the translator of Juan Jose Saer's The One Before (2015) and the winner of the Susan Sontag Prize for Translation.