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SAP Seminar Series: "Now You See It, Now You Don’t" A cultural history of the Indian Emergency (1975-1977), by Ayelet Ben-Yishai

Monday, March 26, 2018 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm

Uris Hall, G08

Forty years after the events of the Emergency roiled India, recent political events and tensions seem to have returned it to public discourse. Declared by Indira Gandhi in June 1975 and lasting a mere twenty months, the Emergency was swiftly relegated to the status of anomaly in India’s democratic history. And yet – as evident in the discourse of the Emergency and attested in its most recent resurfacing – while the period is repeatedly figured as highly exceptional, it is also consistent with Indian politics and culture, shifting between the representation of the events as unprecedented and the opposite conviction that all this has already happened before.

My study combines fiction, journalism, memoir, and scholarship to establish the Emergency as an important interpretative site: an exceptionally violent episode that also functions as a catalyst for a long-term renegotiation of a modern Indian polity and culture. In my talk, I will focus on two very different texts: the first issue of the popular English-language news magazine India Today, published in December 1975, and Manohar Malgonkar’s The Garland Keepers (1980), a little-known, fast-paced, and highly entertaining political thriller. Juxtaposing these texts, I examine not only the ways in which the Emergency was represented, but also the specific Emergency-related politics of writing in English in India.

Ayelet Ben-Yishai is a Senior Lecturer (Assoc. Prof.) in the English Department at the ‎University of Haifa and a 2017-18 Fellow at the Cornell Society of the Humanities, where she is currently writing a cultural and literary history of the Indian Emergency. She specializes in Victorian and postcolonial literature and ‎culture, and in the history and theory of the novel. A comparatist by training, she has degrees in both law and literature, has written extensively on their intersections, and has also led an interdisciplinary and comparative research group entitled, ‎‎"Twentieth-century Partitions: Legacies of British Rule." She is the author of a book, Common Precedents: The ‎Presentness of the Past in Victorian Fiction and Law (Oxford, 2013) and various articles in, among others, NOVEL, Modern Fiction Studies, Journal of Commonwealth ‎Literature, and in the Cambridge History of the Indian Novel in English.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program




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