Welcome to the first ever Bengal Lights Literary Conclave, hosted by the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh (ULAB)! This conclave aims to occupy the discussion space between literary festivals and academic conferences. The distinguished panel of writers, scholars and critics who have gathered here from around the world will spend the next two days exploring this year’s theme Beyond Identity Narratives: Defining a New World Fiction. There will be structured panel discussions that each address an essential and complementary aspect of the broader topic. At the end of the two days, we hope to collate and distill what is said here into in essays to be later published in the Bengal Lights literary journal as well as partner publications. Thank you for joining us in starting a tradition and setting a new standard of literary debate in Bangladesh!
Panel Details: Post 9/11, a host of books with Muslim characters were written – some by Muslim writers – and brought out by Western publishers to great acclaim. Do these works bear the marks of a distorted political discourse? Did they serve up simple binaries of “good” and “bad” Muslims? Or did the writers still manage to capture the tremendous heterogeneity of the Muslim world? This panel will focus on two recent books: Tabish Khair’s How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position, and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but also refer to other salient works.
Panel Details: Whenever cultures of unequal power meet, the lesser power is almost invariably placed in the role of a “native informant”: a puppet, acting out a likeness of its culture. This figure is well known from writings of the colonial period, but are there new variants of it that are demanded and rewarded by a new globalism? And is the “native” ever really that passive? This panel will look at sub-continental writers – Naipaul, Kureishi, Ali, and of course, Farruk Dhondy on stage himself – to see how “natives” subvert the informant role to create texts of abiding literary richness. And how such pressures may still persist, and when or how writers pass or falter.