Vivekananda Lecture: Thinking Through Space: A Multilingual Approach to Literary History

Wednesday, May 15, 2024 – 5pm, International House Assembly Hall

Francesca Orsini, Professor Emerita SOAS & Vivekananda Visiting Professor, Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

An interest in comparative religion made Vivekananda’s father teach himself Arabic and Persian as well as Sanskrit and Hindi. By contrast, Vivekananda’s guru, Ramakrishna encountered other religions orally, through discourses and conversations. What relationship did Vivekananda—who impressed his audience in 1893 Chicago with his mastery of English, valued Sanskrit highly, yet advocated a pliable and expressive Bangla in speech and writing—have to languages and to the multilingual world around him? This is a world that colonial ideas of language and modern monolingual literary histories ill equip us to approach. Drawing on geographer Doreen Massey’s definition of space as “the multiplicity of stories and trajectories so far” and on my recent book East of Delhi: Multilingual Literary Culture and World Literature, this talk employs space heuristically and at different levels to rethink literary history from a multilingual perspective.