30 November - ‘make way poet, jaywalking’: Arun Kolatkar’s Irony and Postcolonial Humour
Department of English
Tapasya Narang, Maynooth University
30 November 2022, 3-4 pm
In specific Indian literary traditions, limit conditions are recurrently addressed by privileging wit and humour over helplessness and sorrow. Sussane Reichl and Mark Stein identify the significance of comedy in postcolonial literary traditions: ‘laughter is a central element, humor a key feature, disrespect a vital textual strategy of postcolonial practice’ (1). Laughter is an important tool in postcolonial contexts, but at the same time, postcolonial writers oppose the understanding of laughter as ‘a cultural attribute of a specific postcolonial space or a marker of inherent Otherness’ (Reichl and Stein 1). Instead of a ‘laughing back’ hypothesis based on Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin’s The Empire Writes Back, where the postcolonial subjects register their disdain against the authority through laughter or Bakhtin’s understanding of humour as a force against official traditions, recent postcolonial studies focus on the conciliatory or intellectually stimulating intentions of humorous texts. Arun Kolatkar’s work presents a significant model of such productive and conciliatory irony as it goes beyond critiquing any particular social group and presents diversity in specific South Asian contexts.
The paper foregrounds the scathing and acerbic critique manifest in ironic and playful aspects of Kolatkar’s poetry. It shall highlight how he uses irony with a rather self-conscious critical edge to deflect limit conditions — such as regressive political ideologies, political violence, religious conflicts, neo-imperialism and late-capitalism. His ironic stance is extremely self-aware and foregrounds his subjective positions while addressing socio-historical phenomena. His ironic inversions are not monolithic but rather cognizant of competing ideologies that give birth to conflict, and he uses irony to persuasively delineate his vision.