Diaspora, Critical Theories, and Death of Language: Ahmed Shams’ analysis

index1Avik Gangopadhyay has both critical and creative writings to his credit published in esteemed journals and leading newspapers. A post-Graduate in English Language and Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He excels equally in English and Bengali. Already an author of nine published books on aesthetics, literature and language, his latest endeavour in editing six books of poems and short stories in Bengali and English has received critical attention in home and abroad. Awarded the Editors’s choice Award for his ‘Achievement in Poetry’ from the Library of Poetry, USA, in April, 2002, he also devotes time to answer queries across the globe as an Expert on T.S.Eliot, on the esteemed webzine on Classical Literature. He takes additional interest in Sanskrit, French and German Languages. Ahmed Tahsin Shams gets on the cruise of Avik Gangopadhyay’s expeditions.

Tons of researches have been cooked on critical thinking from literary and cultural aspects. Yet, the expeditions, made by Indian writer and literary virtuoso Avik Gangopadhyay, mitigate the hungry-minds of lit-enthusiasts with harmony.

Avik is awarded with the “Editor’s Choice Award” for his “Achievement in Poetry” from the Library of Poetry, the USA, in April 2002. He is enlisted at indianauthors.in as an expert on the first half of the 20th century poetry to discuss queries across the globe. Critical theory connoisseur Avik completed his schooling from Jadavpur University in English Language and Literature.

Avik’s critical analysis is profound. To choose one piece from his literary projects will be like standing on the fence. Among many, I primarily touched four of his books. His critical approach to diaspora, sharp sketches of literary and cultural theories, talking on the tones of aesthetics, and researches on death of languages are worth to mention at the outset. His write-ups are assets for all going-to-be academics, or young literary researchers.

Most acclaimed bilingual book project of Avik — Diaspora: Between Phenomenon and Reality; Roots of Trauma Literature, published by Bhashabandhan Prakashani, presents numerous critical aspects. A detail portrayal is chalked down by Avik about the origin and development of the concept — ‘diaspora’. History and culture are well-balanced in his analytical approach. index

Avik begins with the etymology of ‘diaspora’ “Permanently displaced or relocated collectively (Greek term “diaspeirein” means scattering of seeds)”. While talking of its origin and development, his pen smoothly voices—

“First mention of a diaspora — is found in Deuteronomy 28:25 — “thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth”… Then the word ‘diaspora’ was used to refer to the population of Jews exiled from Israel in 607 BCE by the Babylonians, and from Judea in 70 CE by the Roman Empire… In all cases — the term — carries a sense of displacement… re-root.”

His eyes surfed around the globe — Native American Diaspora, Asian Diaspora, European Diaspora, African Diaspora, Indian Diaspora and so on. In short, in Avik’s writing, not only a research is put into display, but also history, cultural context, theories and literature are reflected. Moreover, Avik discusses the political aspect — how — “Colonialists divided indigenous communities intentionally” and “the 20th century saw huge population movements”. His study spoke why “Migration diaspora — a subject of debate” and “after the end of colonial rule — the formation of post-colonial states boosted up diaspora”.

In the section titled ‘The Context of Indian Diaspora’, Avik speaks of all the periods — Hindu early medieval period, Buddhist period, Islamic period, during colonial period and many more. He also reveals pages curving out the statistics of refugees by country around the globe. His research took turn to cultural aspect and he widely discusses about the unwelcomed migrants and refugees, the psyche of a child, adolescent refugee and asylum seekers. He accumulated major research findings on ‘Post traumatic Stress Disorder and Symptomology’.

Then, Avik steps into the psycho-social identity and cultural ideology. There he refers to many theorists to strengthen his analysis on the cultural turn—

“Deconstructing the false universalism of the selective tradition has led to a distrust of all universals.”

Avik explains mystifying ideology and the limits of identity. His blend of theories as references is worth mentioning. Among many, here goes a glimpse—

“Gilroy does argue that ‘people do make their own identities but not in circumstances of their own choosing and from resources they inherit that will always be incomplete.”

“Principally, identity provides a way of understanding the interplay between our subjective experience of the world and the cultural and historical settings in which that fragile subjectivity is formed.”

Thus Avik takes a smooth drive to “Hybridity” and there comes Homi Bhaba’s theories on ‘Cultural Diversity and Cultural Differences’ — “interdependence of colonizer and colonised”.

“Hybridity and linguistic multivocality — have the potential to intervene and dislocate the process of colonization through reinterpretation of political discourse.”

In relation to Bhaba, Avik shares Mudrooroo’s views — “embracing the hybridised nature of cultures steers us away from the problematic binarisms that have until now framed our notions of culture.”

Avik’s mind skilfully exposed relevant references, “The self-and-the other relationship, despite challenges to its analytical capability and fineness, remains the main instrument for anatomizing the imperial programme.”

In addition, Avik is critical of stereotyped binarisms — “Once the binaries are destabilized, Bhaba argues that cultures can be understood to interact, transgress, and transform each other in a much more complex manner than the traditional binary oppositions can allow.”

Thereby, Avik’s critical thinking on literary pieces is pictured in a section titled ‘Finding the Right Approach to Diasporic Theory and Literature’.

And when the topic of exile comes into light, one name that has to be mentioned is — Edward Said, who states on exile that it can be both — “actual” and “metaphoric”, voluntary or involuntary. Exile becomes a larger political gesture to separate intellectuals from those who “toe the line” and those who remain critically resistant to the authorities.

In The World the Text and the Critic, in a chapter titled ‘Criticism between Culture and System’ — Said situates the secular critic between the power of the dominant culture, on the other hand, and the impersonal system of disciplines and methods, on the other.

Avik puts it this way—

“Said dramatizes throughout the chapter by means of theoretical comparison and contrast between Foucault’s ‘cultural understanding of knowledge and power’. Said’s voyage in ‘Culture and Imperialism’ — interesting variety of hybrid cultural work — all is a sign of adversarial internationalization in an age of continued imperial structures.”

In ‘Secularism, Elitism, Progress, and Other Transgression,’ Bruce Robbins uses Said’s “voyage in” motif to show how secularism withstands the criticism that it “deviously serves the interests of neo-imperialism by co-opting elitist authoritative structures that are every bit as oppressive as colonial rule.”

Avik’s scholarly research also serves ‘Language Shaping Thoughts in Diaspora Studies’, and ‘The Concepts of Dominance and Difference in Diaspora’. Along with penning social and political context of diaspora novels, Avik states long explanation of ‘Dialect, Creole, Digloss, Isogloss, Ethnolect, Genderlect, Idiolect and Sociolect’ in this book.

Whether you are student of English literature or only an enthusiast, a book that compiles all the theories with pretty detail analysis vis-a-vis context would be a must-read piece. It’s the other book of Avik — Redefining the 4Definitions: Essays on the Exponents of the Postmodern Theories in Critical Literature, published by Bhashabandhan Prakashani.

While reading Ferdinand de Saussure, enthusiasts who are not even academics, will feel at home to learn about “signs, signifier, signified, syntagmatic relations and paradigmatic relations”. Avik’s view on Mikhail Bakhtin’s Carnivalesque theory would provide a merry-go-round, and the critical critic Jacques Lacan’s “Philosophy of language”, Roland Barthes’ structuralism — the concept of fluidity and plurality — all will pave the readers to a scholarly world where all can access.

Concept of hegemony and power relations, by Michel Foucault, deconstruction method of Jacques Derrida, Claude Levi-Strauss, Noam Chomsky, Julia Kristeva — such intellectuals are highlighted in a sound-narrative style.

Another venture of Avik in Bengali — Sahityotatwo O Somalochona-Sahityo, Bibortone Anubortone, published by Booksway — chalks down every aspect of aesthetics, including modernism, post-modernism, Marxist aesthetics, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, aesthetics of East and West — religious impact as well as cultural impact, colonialism and diaspora aesthetics. Avik’s “Calibanesque consciousness” — to fight against colonial-mindsets with colonial-tools — is evident in his bilingual efficiency.

In Bhashar Mrityu, Lupto O Biponno Bhashar Khoj, published by Kamalini Prakashan Bibhag, and distributed by 3Dey’s Pubilishing, Avik draws a full-on research on languages and their deaths. Till now, among 42192 languages on earth, 6912 are alive. Since 2006, upto now, every year 3000 languages died, that means daily 8.12 languages die. At present, there are approximately 7000 languages and the prediction is by 2100, 90 per cent would be on the verge of extinction. Avik shares the reasons and circumstances — how and why, in which and ways, a language dies. And thus the book brings forth history and theories of hegemonic relationship — the age-old technique to attack language to corrupt culture.

Avik argues — transformation of languages and death of languages — both are different. Ancient Greek, Latin — such languages are transformed into something else. They didn’t die. The most catchy and appealing section of the book is the merge of the linguistic-specialists’ comment and interviews.

It won’t be a hyperbole-statement if I say on Avik’s literary endeavours — Literary connoisseurs and aficionados will watch a literary epic-film of words that combines relevant cultural history, and theories; thus his efforts open a new eye to the young lit-buffs.

About author

Ahmed Tahsin Shams
Ahmed Tahsin Shams 3 posts

Ahmed Tahsin Shams, born in Dhaka, completed his B.A and M.A from the Department of English, University of Dhaka. Besides being a Lecturer at the Department of English in Notre Dame University Bangladesh, Shams simultaneously works with The Daily Observer as Sub-editor of two literary pages -- Literature and Book Review (Weekend Observer). He is also working with fortnightly journal titled Monitor as Feature Editor. Shams works with Channel-i as English Subtitle Translator (International Film Desk, Impress Telefilm Ltd.) As Shams did his major in English Literature, he is efficiently indulged into creative writing and critical literary & cultural theories. He is the author of the books Theo 101, a collection of poems published by Antivirus Publication (Liverpool, England) in 2015, Cultural Columns: Traffic of Truth published by Utso Prokashan (Bangladesh) in 2015. At present, Shams is the Director of Avant-garde Productions, and framed an audio-visual feature film titled A Tale of Night-Flowers, shorts titled ‘Pigland’, and ‘No More Tales…’ Shams wrote numerous television fiction scripts in Bangladesh, and directed telefilm Shunner Abritti (The Sound of Silence), aired on Channel-i, produced a visual fiction Pracheer, aired on ATN Bangla. Moreover, he is the script writer of visual fiction titled Bodhon, aired on Bangladesh Television and Andore Alo, aired on SATV. Shams is also the co-writer of an Indian visual fiction Female in Frame (Kolkata, India).

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