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Paper by Lion König: “‘Let a Thousand Ramayanas Bloom’: Crossing, Belonging, and the Contested Space of India’s Great Epic”

Oct 19, 2012
Organizer: University of Mainz
Johannes-Gutenberg Universität Mainz

Lion König, member of the Cluster’s Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies (GPTS) is giving a paper at the conference “Discursive Crossings: Subversion and Affirmation of Power Relations”, at Johannes-Gutenberg Universität Mainz on 19 October 2012.

Title of the paper

“‘Let a Thousand Ramayanas Bloom’: Crossing, Belonging, and the Contested Space of India’s Great Epic”

Paper abstract

Borders are not necessarily geographical demarcations but can likewise be of a social, communicative, cultural, iconographic and symbolic nature. When people cross such borders, they cross spaces, which can be a subversive act leading to an alteration of meaning (Donnan and Wilson, 1999). By investigating into visual and textual ‘crossings’ of the dominant discursive borders established by self-proclaimed cultural guardians around the Indian epic Ramayana, this paper seeks to determine the ways in which discursive plurality has challenged existing power structures. Methodologically, the paper relates the Gramscian idea of establishing cultural hegemony through control over the discourse to the case of India, where social and political actors have been engaged in the interpretative monopolization and homogenization of plural and heterogeneous readings of the epic. Case studies of the silencing of dissenting voices outside of, as well as within the institutional framework, serve as the empirical base of the paper. Censorship is here regarded as a power mechanism directed at the modification of discourse and the establishment of structures of domination by the way of institutionalizing a specific reading of a text. Drawing on Benedict Anderson’s (1991) assertion that the nation is imagined through discourse, a crossing of cultural and symbolic borders also constitutes a negotiation over belonging to a national community and a (re-) positioning of the self in the discursive sphere. The paper employs the concept of ‘cultural citizenship’ as an analytical tool in order to show that an active intervention in the media discourse is a crucial precondition for the self-perception as a citizen. Crossing, as an interventionist strategy thus is a means of identity affirmation and a way of strengthening collective cultural consciousness.
Overall, the cases under consideration make a strong claim for a research framework informed by transculturality, of which, according to Pratt (1991) activity and creativity are central features. Therefore, ‘crossing’ with its parameters of power, space and asymmetry can be seen as a transcultural practice with the potential for theory-building across region and discipline.