1st Edition

Modern Indian Literature as Cosmopolis Conversations with Hanuman

By Didier Coste Copyright 2025
    326 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book redefines modern Indian literature from a cosmopolitan comparative perspective inclusive of literature in English from India and the diaspora, in native languages, and works by non-Indians. It shows how, since the mid-19th century, Indian literary modernity pursued the conjunction of the sensuous and ethical/spiritual that characterized its three traditions (Sanskritik, Persian, and folk culture) while the encounter, both receptive and oppositional, with “the West” vastly expanded the Indian literary sphere. Aesthetics and ethics are not antithetical in the Indian cultural space, but the quest for an exclusive Indian identity versus universalist approaches offsets concerns for social justice as well as enjoyable embodied communication. The literary constellation, in many languages, now formed in and around India can be better apprehended as a virtual Cosmopolis, a commonwealth of elaborate emotions. The versatile figure of Hanuman metaphorically flies across this Ocean of Stories to make us discover new worlds of experience.






    Indialab and the Wild Kromosome


    Part 1 – Sites of Literary Thought: Theorizing with “India”



    Complexity as Cliché and as Field Extension


    1 Indian Literature as a Comparative Exercise

    2 World Literature: Home and/or the World?

    3 Postcoloniality: Beyond and Besides

    4 Rasa, Dhvani, Raga, Reading


    Part 2 – Versatile (Mis)understandings



    Marabar Caves Forever—a Mystique of Unknowing?


    5 Firangi Visions

    6 Divided Togetherness: Maitreyi and Mircea

    7 Elusive, Liminal and Imagined Indiannesses


    Part 3 – Transmission, Transformation, Transgression



    Indian Untranslatables and Transmission


    8 Transnation, Translation, Heteroglossia

    9 Transgender and Transgenre

    10 Form and Metamorphoses in Poetry


    Part 4 – Fictional and Argumentative Aesthetics



    Aesthetic Dimensions in Practice


    11 Aesthetics of Disorder and Disaster

    12 Aesthetics of Blood and Flesh

    13 Participation and Embodiment in Arundhati Roy’s Non-Fiction





    Part 5 – Benefiting from Loss



    Days of Future Past and Past Futures


    14 Gods and Ghosts in Our Backyard

    15 History into Fiction or Vice Versa

    16 Comparative Exclusions

    17 Unfulfilled Femininities



    Vagrant Non-Endings: A Conversation with Dr. Gautam Chakrabarti


    Work Cited




    Didier Coste is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Université Bordeaux Montaigne. He has taught in Belgium, Australia, France, Spain, the United States, Canada, and Tunisia and was twice a fellow of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His book Narrative as Communication (1989) has become a Narrative Theory classic. The collection Migrating Minds: Theories and Practices of Cultural Cosmopolitanism (Routledge 2022) co-edited with Christina Kkona and Nicoletta Pireddu was awarded the René Wellek Prize 2023 of the ACLA for the best edited collection in Comparative Literature and is prolonged by the Migrating Minds Journal of Cultural Cosmopolitanism. Coste’s methodological sum A Cosmopolitan Approach to Literature: Against Origins and Destinations (Routledge 2023) laid the theoretical foundations for the present book. Coste is also a trilingual poet and novelist; Indian Poems, his latest collection, was published by the legendary Writers Workshop of Calcutta in 2019. As a literary translator, he was the recipient of a major French award in 1977.

    Focusing on “movable centres” and “planetary suburbs,” taking up “glocal forms and genres,” opening up the “unfinished/unfinishable puzzle” of “India” as a “world model” and simultaneously “dislodging it from its homeness,” Didier Coste engages with the full potential of doing Comparative Literature in present times. His reading of a dizzying range of “Indian” texts and communities in an ardent, incisive, and imaginative manner with Hanuman’s “flickering torch in hand” will be of immediate interest to scholars in different fields trying to locate and understand the implications of recomposed relational selves open to new forms of creativity.

    Subha Chakraborty Dasgupta taught Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Her recent edited volumes include Critical Discourse in Bangla, 2022 (with Subrata Sinha) and Figures of Transcontinental Multilingualism, 2018 (with K. Alfons Knauth).


    Didier Coste presents in full bloom what Goethe would have just about sown the seeds for in his "Conversations with Eckermann"—the great herbarium of World Literature. For, when asked to fetch just one herb to revive the fatally wounded Lakshmana, Hanuman would have rather lifted and brought the whole herbarium, nay the entire mountain. In his provocative metaphorics of conversations with this Hanuman—whose place in the bamboo groves is playfully interchanged with Goethe's in Weimar—with Eckermann and himself as interlocutors, Coste reimagines World Literature through the prism of Modern Indian Literature—a truly cosmopolitical and planetary gesture indeed. And, what a fantastic effort it has turned out to be, such a wonderful and thought-provoking book... a must-read!

    Saugata Bhaduri is Professor at the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His books include Polycoloniality: European Transactions with Bengal from the 13th to the 19th Century (2020), Perspectives on Comparative Literature and Culture in the Age of Globalization (2010), and Translating Power (2008).