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Doctoral Project

Obscenity and Desecration: Practices of Dissent in the Bengali Hungry Generation movement of 1960s
Daniela Cappello (M.A.)

My project focuses on practices of obscenity in the Bengali anti-establishment literature of the 1960s, most notably on the Hungry Generation Movement (1961-1965). Assuming that the “aesthetics of obscenity” was seen as a form of political resistance by many anti-establishment writers and artists of Western counter-cultures, this study aims at showing how some practices of dissent were used in post-Independence Bengali literary culture to shape an alternative identity for the Bengali urban intellectual. Moreover, this very debate on obscenity and ensuing censorship made space for a wider discussion on freedom of speech which filled political newspapers and reviews throughout India. Despite the alleged “indigeneity” of the movement’s background, the study wants to show how the Hungryalists actually “filtered” through their writings some of the most typical practices of Western counter-cultures, as was the case for obscenity, in order to break with the Bengali cultural establishment.

The study will focus on the Bengali Hungry Generation movement by investigating its “little magazines” and other kinds of small publications (i.e. bulletin, leaflets, anthologies) which were seen as an alternative cultural practice intended to reshape the Calcutta postcolonial literary space. These little publications represented in fact the only press promoting new literature and socio-political protest whereas the big publishing industry remained silent due to government censorship. The Hungryalist movement exemplifies the wave of postmodern experimental writings of the 1960s – which was widespread in little magazines – attempting to subvert the urban (Calcutta) cultural establishment that was still imbued with colonial influences. Despite the trial that sentenced the authors to jail for obscenity in their poetry, the movement had a great impact on the shaping of literary counter-cultures in Bengal. The research therefore raises questions about the much debated search for a postcolonial cultural identity which constantly evolved throughout the decades after the Independence of India. Following this assumption and using written, oral and visual sources, I intend to explore this subversive literary culture of post-Independence Bengal.