The Unbearable Opulence of Being

Prasanta Chakravarty is Associate Professor of English at the University of Delhi. He is also the editor of the web-journal humanities underground. His work on early modern radical heretic culture is published as Like Parchment in the Fire: Literature and Radicalism in the English Civil War (Routledge, 2006). He has recently edited a volume on contemporary writings on humanities titled Shrapnel Minima, Writings from Humanities Underground (Seagull India and University of Chicago Press, 2014). He has been associated with the Brown University Advanced Research Institute, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities and Institute of Humanities and Global Culture, University of Virginia. He nurtures a particular interest in poetry and poetics and enjoys translating significant contemporary literary writings into English. 

A collection of his essays will be available from January 1. THE OPULENCE OF EXISTENCEEssays on Aesthetics and Politics is published by Three Essays Collective, Gurugram.
This collection of essays offers a way of reading texts and testaments by suggesting that there is no dispute between critical skeptical thinking and our intuitive grasp of the opulent, shimmering matter that lies strewn all around us. One can wonder at the large forces of existence and yet colour such wonderment with a tenor of incredulity. That is how we deal with the ineradicable vehemence of life as participants and as observers. This could be called a counter-romantic way of approaching icons and images, confessions and treatises, journeys and turbulences.

Of the twenty-four essays collated here, several are close readings of a range of arts practices including literature, film and iconography. Others are about antinomian forms of political philosophy. Taken as a whole, the impulse of the essays is to do with the extraction of a certain utopian way of living, to weave ephemera into reality by and through which one hopes to catch the opulence of this our existence, without being overly optimistic.

Since art grapples with the ridiculous and the disgusting, the zany and the deadpan, the wrathful and the tenuous, its heretic possibilities are immense. It is this that the humanities must unleash against those who want to conserve harmonious social stratification and algorithmic disinterestedness.

Helen Small, University of Oxford says "Iconoclastic, fervent, visionary, but insistently in touch with the harshness of much lived reality, Prasanta Chakravarty brings a welcome freshness to politically committed advocacy for the humanities. This is radical criticism that recognises the demands of scepticism and the hunger for inspiration in equal measure."

"Prasanta Chakravarty’s wide-ranging essays are granular responses to hegemony. Each reflection is as systematic as it is non-systematic, allowing everyday and literary kinds of movement to burst theoretical and historical orthodoxies with their own, equally theoretical and historical force. What emerges is thought drawing political energy from texture. In this invaluable and original book, everything is up for rethinking under conditions that mean that not just anything can be thought." Rei Terada, University of California, Irvine

Ajay Skaria of the University of Minnesota: For some years, Prasanta Chakravarty’s blog Humanities Underground has offered some of the most incisive and thoughtful analyses of the questions facing the humanities. Now, in this valuable intervention, Chakravarty offers a set of ‘counter-romantic’ readings that repeatedly question received wisdom. These essays boldly put forth fresh and counterintuitive perspectives, whether reading Aurobindo as a vitalist thinker, illuminating the interstices of the everyday in Sikdar’s writing, arguing against the conventional understanding of Niebuhr as a Christian realist, analyzing Mamata Banerjee’s invocation of Suchitra Sen, or exploring what is involved in listening rather than simply presenting at a seminar. 

In paperback, Rs 575, x+298 pages. ISBN 9789383968213