vol. 4 No. 2 Dec. 2020

Hunger, World, the X: On Ghosh and Miller’s Thinking Literature Across Continents
Author:Antonis Balasopoulos    Time:2021-02-20    Click:

Abstract: This essay constitutes an unorthodox response to Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller’s Thinking Literature Across Continents: instead of attempting to conventionally engage with a text that challenges the idea of any unitary totality as a whole, I opt instead to dwell on the interplay between language and silence in three different sites of inquiry within the text: the first concerns the question of hunger, for which I take as my starting point Ghosh’s own starting point in the first chapter of the book, namely Rabidranath Tagore’s reflections on a brief episode on the river Ganges. I excavate the transcontinental provenance of these reflections for western, particularly Kantian, aesthetics before I focus on two aspects within the episode that such a framing misses or remains silent about: the paradoxical tendency of material satiation to demote the importance of hunger (as paradigmatically exposed in Brecht); and the indeterminacy of the kind of hunger that is involved in the boatman’s response within Tagore’s text (as evidenced by prehistoric cave paintings). Finally, I demonstrate the importance of taking these complications into account when reading Ghosh’s own extensive interest in foregrounding hunger within the literary phenomenon and its hermeneutic reception. In the second part of the essay, I dwell on Ghosh’s critique of prevailing notions of “world literature” in the fifth chapter of the book by demonstrating the ontological (Heideggerian) rather than empirical meaning of world in his writing, and, by extension, the subtractive and absence-centered meaning of what he calls the “more than global.” Finally, I turn to J. Hillis Miller’s reading of Wallace Stevens’s “The Motive for Metaphor” in the fourth chapter as an exemplary site for the exploration of the interface between poetics, hermeneutics and ontology that is central to Ghosh’s theory of the literary, and thus serves to highlight, in Miller’s very engagement with the failure of language as an issue of concern in the poem, the possibility of dialogue between the two critics: indeed, as I show, Stevens’s figure of the “X” serves both as a signifier of the ineffable and as one for criss-crossing, for the “across” involved in “thinking literature across” authors, continents and traditions.

Keywords: Martin Heidegger, Ontology, Poetics, Ranjan Ghosh, J. Hillis Miller


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