Can you address someone in a language that they don’t know?

This question is answered by a paradox: you can’t, and yet you might. In her remarkable first book, The Idea of Indian Literature: Gender, Genre, and Comparative Method (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2022), Preetha Mani traces the contours of this paradox by asking how different linguistic communities came to inhabit a single literary field in South Asia. Her investigations produce an exacting historical and textual study of multilingualism, wrought through India’s language politics and history. The book shows that a utopian ambition undergirds both Indian literature and Comparative Literature more broadly. This is Mani’s central move, to argue that the idea of Indian literature is, in a microcosmic way, the idea of the discipline at large: “a literary field threatened [by] dissolution by the very components it longs to bring together” (195).

The Idea of Indian Literature discusses canonical...

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