The second lecture of the Bricolage series, organized by the research scholars of the Department of English, University of Hyderabad titled “Why Aesthetics is Always Also Politics” was delivered by Professor Susie Tharu at ASIHSS Hall, School of Humanities on the February 05, 2020.

Prof Susie Tharu is retired professor of English and Foreign Language University and co-editor of anthologies like No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India and Women Writing in India: 600 BC to Present amongst others.

She began her lecture speaking about how modernist pathbreakers like Virgina Woolf, were far more radical in their politics than simply the gifted novelty of the stream-of-consciousness literary form that history of literature accords them; and she talked about a similarly rupture-creating date in Kannada Literature – 1954. “The year 1954 was the star-studded year for Dalit Kannada Literature, with writers like D R Nagaraj and Siddalingaiah being born,” said Prof Tharu. She then spoke of how these figures, in college, were instrumental in Dalit support of the non-upper caste Chief Minister of Karnataka, B. Basavalingappa during the “boosa” agitation of 1973.

Prof Susie said, Basavalingappa ‘s opinion on how Kannada students, while retaining Kannada pride, ought to embrace English in a spirit of true nationalism, and how much of then Kannada Literature was boosa (translated as husk, chaff or waste) had sparked protests from several Kannada nationalist students, as well as a parallel movement in his support launched by Dalit Students, amongst them Nagaraj and Siddhalingaiah, who brought in a new Dalit aesthetic to Kannada Poetry, going so far as to challenge conceptions about the language of poetry.

Speaking about how aesthetics in modern western epistemology is comparatively recent, Prof Tharu said, The French Revolution had, for the first time, introduced democracy, the formation of the Modern nation-state, and the idea of the land belonging to the people. Kant’s idea of Beauty was based on this idea of the free man in a modern nation state.

Tharu then linked Kant to Gramsci’s chapter on the role of the Intellectual in his Prison Notebooks, in which the role of the emergent intellectual in paving the way for a new proletarian hegemony by giving the group homogeneity, making them aware of their economic, social and cultural functioning as well as giving them a chance to express the affective dimension of their politics. “The intellectual does that in the arena of culture and aesthetics, which shapes politics,” she added.

She concluded her lecture with speculations on the nature of a new structure for the University, one that will be formed by the entry of marginalised sections of society into the institution. According to Prof. Susie, we ought to ask questions on what the art and aesthetics of the marginalised can bring to our imagination of truth, being and nationalism, finally bringing in the “community of the question” based on a spirit of true enquiry and friendship.

In the very engaging question and answer section that followed, topics like the “return to the text”, the question of whether politics was also always aesthetics, the differences between classicist aesthetics and romantic aesthetics, the banality of what is currently being dished out as “politics” and “aesthetics”, the idea that true politics is people claiming for Humanity and the marriage of aesthetics and politics with the aim of seeing something newer and more beautiful with change, were also discussed.

-Soumya Sharma, Dept. Communication, Jinan and Laboni, Dept. of English.