19 Feb 2009 5:00pm - 7:00pm CRASSH


A lecture by CRASSH Visiting Fellow Professor Supriya Chaudhuri (Jadavpur University)

Walter Benjamin speaks of the ‘phantasmagorias of the interior’ that, in nineteenth century Europe, serve to define not just the private universe but also the étui of the bourgeois individual: a domestic interior composed of material objects, especially furniture, on which the traces of the inhabitant are imprinted. Nineteenth-century European realism attaches itself to these objects, configuring them as the space within which the moral, no less than the physical, existences of human beings may be trapped. Bengali fiction in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries adapted many of the techniques of realism, a realism grounded in the social life of things, from the European novel. It might be argued that the whole project of colonial modernity involves a new valuation placed upon the world as a collection of objects in use, even as a site of commodity exchange and transfer in Marx’s sense, at the same time that colonial subjects begin to acquire a new habitus of conspicuous consumption distinguished by the possession and display of a previously-unknown range of household goods. But I would suggest that the realism of the early Bengali novel is deeply ambivalent in its response to the physical world and to the social life of things: and that this ambivalence, a response to ‘modernity’ as such, is the product of a lack of fit between the sumptuary codes of modern mercantile capitalism and a profound suspicion of the world and its goods that is culturally encoded as an older, or ‘traditional’ way of life. To examine this proposition, I shall take only one element of the domestic interior, furniture: and I will be looking at novels by Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Jogendrachandra Basu and Rabindranath Tagore.


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