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Sanjukta Dasgupta

Sanjukta Dasgupta

Sanjukta Dasgupta

You have been influenced by Marxist thinkers, both abstract thinkers and feminist thinkers. Could you please tell us of the value of Marxism today when Marx is hardly understood except in pejorative terms?

My response to your question will be subjective. I feel Marx is still relevant because poverty, class and gender discrimination, crony capitalism, labour exploitation, gender oppression, terrorism, refugee crisis, lack of basic education, health and accommodation, among many others,are human rights issues that need to be addressed on a war footing! While the Marxist theorists address the relevance of Marx through analyses of concepts and by locating paradigmatic shifts, the Leftist activist addresses the ground realities. There is an element of missionary zeal in an ideology that professes complete economic equality and has faith in the philosophic mission of striving for a classless society. Its application by the state machinery in various countries, however, is a different issue, often disturbing and untenable.

How much has your poetry been influenced by your being an editor of a feminist journal? Do you think that -isms detract from poetry as Harold Bloom claims? Bloom remains one of the last sane voices rigorously judging the merits of a poet.

My writing poems and short stories keep me going. It is cathartic and therapeutic. Isms in poetry maybe regarded as exclusivist and even propagandist, depending on who the poet is. The content as text and the poet as text are both critical; it is not possible to forget the poet while reading the poet’s work. A bio-critical intervention and contextual parameters are crucial for a holistic understanding of a creative piece. The poet’s agenda, therefore, is important. A narrative poem, an agitprop poem, a poem profound in metaphor, synecdoche and metonymy, all these have different targets,and so the takeaways from each are different. So it is the Thought-fox that Ted Hughes’s described so brilliantly, that teases out a poem that can be a combination of heredity, environment, scholarship and perception.

You have been a regular writer for various newspapers and have also written for the popular media. Why do you think that many scholars shun writing for newspapers and a larger popular audience?

Newspaper articles and pieces are not listed with any credit in the institutionalised academic audit of a career scholar, so perhaps the “shunning”. But even in this digitisedworld, a daily national newspaper reaches approximately 2 lakh readers. At a very unflattering conservative estimate, 500 readers will surely have read your piece on a single day. A scholarly article in a book or journal may have to wait for years to get 500 readers.
An academic elitist may find the print media pedestrian. But I believe that reaching the pedestrian is essential.

Could you please tell us of your development as a scholar of Aldous Huxley to one of the Brontës and then as a votary of Virginia Woolf?

Well, my PhD dissertation was a comparative study of Aldous Huxley and Ernest Hemingway. I published the revised dissertation as a book in 1996. I am often surprised to see that it features in Amazon and Flipkart even in 2018.The Aldous Huxley Centre at Munster, Germany invited me to participate in a Huxley conference held at the Huntington Library, California. That was in 2007. My academic interests had shifted to gender studies and women’s writing by then. So my Huxley paper presented in California was about geographies and gender!
I would not call myself a Woolf votary or a Brontë aficionado. But I learnt immensely from their writing- both style and content. I do not believe in style without substance, so content and context are both very important to me, as a reader and a student of literature.

You were The Chairperson of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, could you tell us about the difficulties of being a judge of fiction?

The first “difficulty” is that you have to sincerely engage yourself in reading around a 100 new books published in that particular year, within three months. After the three months of reading you had to meet members of the jury panel from other parts of the world, In my case, my jury panel included two British journalists, a Sri Lankan academic, an Australian writer and a professor from Bangladesh. Very diverse you will agree. That’s the Commonwealth after all. From the many books we read, all of us tried to identify a freshness of purpose, a fresh style of storytelling and readability. It was difficult to find all three in one book.So in a way, our task was not so difficult. The books which combined all three, freshness of purpose, fresh storytelling style and readability were never too many. So after the shortlists, we debated with energy about our choices,and voila, one book was selected for the award for that year!

About the Interviewee:

Sanjukta Dasgupta, Professor and Former Head, Department of English and currently Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Calcutta, is a critic, translator, and a poet. She has published in journals in India and abroad. Her awards and grants include the British Council Charles Wallace Scholar grant, Fulbright Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Associate Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. She participated in the Writers’ and Literary Translators’ International Congress (WALTIC) at Stockholm and also served as Chairperson for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia region), organized by the Commonwealth Foundation, UK. Professor Dasgupta is the Managing Editor of FAMILIES: A Journal of Representations and Assistant Editor of Journal of Women’s Studies, Calcutta University.