Genres of Emergency: Forms of Crisis and Continuity in Indian Writing in English

by Ayelet Ben-Yishai

Genres of Emergency offers literary genre as a way to understand and negotiate the varied states of emergency and crisis that have become a fixture of our contemporary world. Building on a critical study of the literature written during and about the State of Emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in India (1975 – 1977), the study establishes emergency and its genres as an important interpretative site: an exceptionally violent episode marked as a one-off crisis, which also functions as a locus for an ongoing renegotiation of a modern polity and culture. Reading a wide-ranging archive of English-language texts – from prison memoir to popular magazine, from high-brow literary fiction to boilerplate thriller, from the unrelentingly realistic to the mythically allegorical – Genres of Emergency traces the tension between crisis and continuity that these genres mediate. In addressing this tension, the authors of Emergency fiction take seriously the genres in which they write and use them to mobilize literary conventions as political interventions. More specifically, these novels use the conventions of realism, epic, allegory, and the thriller to reach back in time and across cultures and languages, invoking past iterations of these genres and histories and anticipating those to come. Combining literary criticism with cultural history, Genres of Emergency thus has implications for the study of literary genre, for the historical events that these genres recount, and for understanding the politics of literary form.
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