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Refiguring the Urdu Canon: Highbrow, Lowbrow and the Nobrow

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Organizer: Sarah Abdullah

Co-Organizer: Amina Wasif

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Refiguring the Urdu Canon: Highbrow, Lowbrow and the Nobrow

The canonization of any literature is always a very contested field as its politics of inclusion and exclusion creates cultural and literary stratification. Urdu literary histories are no exception. There are quite a few books in Urdu that explore the history of its literature, however, these histories are lacking in their representation as they refuse to acknowledge many of the popular texts and voices that made quite an impact on the culture of their times. In recent times Shmasur Rehman Faruqi and Frances Pritchett have drawn attention to the early history of Urdu language and literature but there are hardly any contesting voices on the literature, that was produced during the end of nineteenth and twentieth century onwards. This has led to strict hierarchization within Urdu literature and its critique, where certain forms and genres are prioritized whereas others are relegated to the very margins. By drawing attention to the lack of debate on Urdu literary canon, we intend to explore those voices that have been either forgotten, missed or misread in the history of Urdu literature taking up the lowbrow and the nobrow, as Peter Swirski puts it.

Papers might include but are not limited to popular fiction like digests, detective fiction and oral narratives. In doing so, we seek to answer the following questions.

What were the factors- social, cultural and political- that led to the exclusion of these texts from literary histories?

How did this exclusion strengthen binaries of high and low and nobrow literature?

How does the recovery and incorporation of these texts lead to the revision and reconstruction of the Urdu literary canon?

In what ways can this revision challenge mainstream narratives about indigenous cultural history?

 

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