A Poetic History of South Asia: Lecture by Dr Nosheen Ali (Pak)

The Department of History
cordially invites you to:
Notes on a Poetic History of South Asia



Dr Nosheen Ali

Wednesday, 21 September, 2016

12:30 pm

History Lecture Theatre (Room 2), Main Building, Presidency University, Kolkata

Dr Nosheen Ali is interested in social and poetic histories of South Asia, with a focus on Pakistan and Kashmir. Her previous research examined state-formation and social movements in Pakistan's northern frontier, while her current research examines the history and nature of poetic knowledge in South Asia. Nosheen has a Ph.D. in Development Sociology from Cornell University. She has served as the founding director and assistant professor of Social Development and Policy at Habib University, and taught courses at UC Berkeley, New York University and Columbia University. She is the founder of the), and a founding member of the international network GRASP (Group for Research in the Anthropology, Sociology and Politics of Pakistan).

Notes on a Poetic History of South Asia

How do we comprehend the poetic universe in South Asia, and why is it important to do so? This is the larger question towards which this paper offers some insights from Pakistan. Drawing upon field and felt experiences in Sindh and South Punjab, I analyze how poetic action has historically shaped notions of self, collectivity, and change in the region, and suggest mannkahat/poetic knowledge as a term for capturing the poetic as a mode of being, seeing and doing in South Asia. In the context of Muslim South Asia in particular, over the last thousand years and more, poets have sought to unravel a “knotted primitive unity” through bedazzled verse-stories of love, oneness, freedom and humanism. In this feeling-space-time, poetic knowledge was often the very mode of anti-hierarchical thought, and love, the very principle of divinity, defiance and autonomy. Moreover, poetic knowledge traditions were simultaneously social and supra-social, transcendental and political. I unpack the "political" in the poetic, and demonstrate how poetic knowledge traditions defy categories such as religious/secular and pious/progressive that often slither into analyses of Pakistan. Across the diverse terrains of Urdu, Sindhi, Seraiki, and Punjabi poetry, I ask what poetry offers that the archive and the interview does not, and attend to poetic practices of decolonization that contest the cognitive imperialisms of our time. Ultimately, I argue that a renewed sense of radical politics needs to be grounded in a poetic politics - one that recognizes how spirito-poetic histories have been foundational to social and political being in South Asia, and remain critical to the ways in which poets and other social actors are formulating new possibilities in the present.

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