The World in a Grain of Sand
Postcolonial Literature and Radical Universalism
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240 pages / May 2021 / 9781788737463
May 2021 / 9781788737487

Radical universalism vs postcolonial theory

The World in a Grain of Sand makes an argument for literature from the Global South against the grain of cultural studies, especially postcolonial theory. It critiques the valorisation of the local in cultural theories, typically accompanied by a rejection of universal categories since the latter are viewed as Eurocentric projections. This privileging of the local, however, usually results in an exoticisation of the South. In contrast, Majumdar offer that we can reject Eurocentrism while embracing a non-parochial form of universalism.


“A bracing critique of postcolonial orthodoxy from a standpoint decisively to the left of it. Some books are enjoyable but not necessary; this one is both.”

“More than three decades after its intellectual and institutional beginnings, postcolonial theory must still learn to read—and how not to read—postcolonial literature. So argues, convincingly, Nivedita Majumdar in this careful and militantly progressive new work of postcolonial literary criticism and interpretation. A theory launched by high poststructuralism and a then stylish postmodernism’s cult of difference and allergy to universals trips over literary narratives that, on the contrary, have everything to do with the concrete universals inseparable from struggles against gender and class oppression. Whether, as Majumdar carefully demonstrates, these narratives (here mostly Anglo- and, refreshingly, non–Anglo-Indian) ultimately prove to be truthful reflections of such struggles and their underlying social realities or not, their genuinely critical reading presupposes a radical universalism at odds with many of the originating texts of postcolonial theory—a theory that Majumdar here goes a long way towards rectifying and redeeming.”

“In crisp, honest, prose, Majumdar treats the academy’s postcolonial royalty with remarkable candor in a series of sharp, often acerbic, close readings. We too often call dissent what are really acts of accommodation, she argues, and ignore the real-world fiction of the periphery—the work, say, of Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay, Mahasweta Devi, and A. Sivanandan—who take their stand not with a classless ‘difference’ but with radical universalism. A compelling case that the darling texts of the Western awards industry (the novels of Ondaatje, Lahiri, and Neel Mukherjee) reflect troubling neo-Orientalist or neoliberal ideas.”

“In this vigorously discriminating and deeply engaged book, Professor Majumdar seeks to restore to Postcolonial Studies its pristine political purpose. Going beyond or behind the pervasive complicities of the Postcolonial with Cultural Studies, World Literature and the New Left, she argues for a more meaningful resistance based on the older certitudes of class struggle. She proposes an alternative Postcolonial canon in which the little-known Sharatchandra and Sivanandan are put forward as being more particular and therefore more universal than liberal global figures such as Tagore and Ondaatje. This return to the local, in her affirmation, is a more radical and universalist new turn.”

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