Prose of the World

NewestPROSEMajumdar, Saikat. Prose of the World. Columbia University Press: 2013

Everyday life in the far outposts of empire can be static, empty of the excitement of progress. A pervading sense of banality and boredom are, therefore, common elements of the daily experience for people living on the colonial periphery. Saikat Majumdar suggests that this impoverished affective experience of colonial modernity significantly shapes the innovative aesthetics of modernist fiction.
Prose of the World explores the global life of this narrative aesthetic, from late-colonial modernism to the present day, focusing on a writer each from Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. Ranging from James Joyces deflated epiphanies to Amit Chaudhuris disavowal of the grand spectacle of postcolonial national allegories, Majumdar foregrounds the banal as a key instinct of modern and contemporary fiction one that nevertheless remains submerged because of its antithetical relation to literatures intuitive function to engage or excite.
Majumdar asks us to rethink the assumption that banality merely indicates an aesthetic failure. If narrative is traditionally enabled by the tremor, velocity, and excitement of the event, the historical and affective lack implied by the banal produces a narrative force that is radically new precisely because it suspends the conventional impulses of narration.

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According to Majumdar, the development of tales about tedium in four British-ruled colonies is no coincidence. Modern literature’s “preoccupation with the banal cannot be fully understood without attention to the colonial anxiety of being left in the backwater of progress and excitement.”
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For what does James Joyce do? “He writes about people staring at a mark on a wall.” Joyce’s Ulysses, he says, is an ironic echo of the epic. “It only uses the epic to mock it.” In the modern age, unlike in the age of feudalism, there can be no grandeur. Madame Bovary, he says, is a novel of boredom. The lady wanted to fill up her life with affairs of the heart because she was bored.
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