Retrofitting the Theory of the Novel

November 10, 2016 -
4:00pm to 5:30pm

 Sponsored by the Literature Program, the English Department, the Cultural Studies Center, the Global Studies Program, and the Humanities Center.

Retrofitting the Theory of the Novel

Priya Joshi, Temple University

“Retrofit:  A modification made to a product or structure to incorporate changes and developments introduced since manufacture” (OED). 

Novel theorists in the twentieth century have made wide-ranging claims about the form based on European texts that were virtually all written in a past moment.  Thus, the novels of Fielding, Richardson, and Defoe were 200 years old when Ian Watt retrieved them for his history (1957); Balzac's and Tolstoy's novels would have been collecting social security when Lukàcs wrote on them in Theory of the Novel (1916); and Bakhtin's "early novels" were almost a millennia old in the account he provides in "Epic and the Novel" (1930s).   This talk is part of an effort to retrofit the theory of the novel in two ways:  first quite literally by framing a theory of the novel alongside novels that are contemporary with the theory. The second impulse is to review  the kinds of novels included in our theories:  might including anti-literary works from around the world revise what we know of the novel and its robust global circulation.   In short, the talk is an attempt to develop a twenty-first century theory of the novel that arrives from twenty-first century novels.   Thus, the novels of Fielding, Richardson, and Defoe were 200 years old when Ian Watt retrieved them for his history (1957); Balzac's and Tolstoy's novels would have been collecting social security when Lukàcs wrote on them in Theory of the Novel (1916]); and Bakhtin's "early novels" were almost a millennia old in the account he provides in "Epic and the Novel" (1930s).  

Priya Joshi is a book historian and scholar of narrative who has published on the history and theory of the novel and Bollywood cinema.  She is the author of 2 scholarly monographs and a co-edited volume.  Bollywood’s IndiaA Public Fantasy (Columbia UP, 2015); In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India (Columbia 2002 and Oxford 2003; winner of the MLA’s Prize for the Best First Book, the Sonia Rudikoff Prize for Best First Book in Victorian Studies, among others); and The 1970s and its Legacies in India’s Cinemas (Routledge 2014).  Joshi is currently writing a book that rethinks the theory of the novel based on anti-literary forms such as detective and pulp fictions produced outside the metropolis. Portions of that research have been published or are forthcoming in A History of the Indian Novel in English (Cambridge 2015), The Cambridge Companion to the Novel (2017), and The Oxford History of the Novel in English (volume 10, 2017).   Prior to joining Temple in 2005, Joshi was Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, where she taught since 1995.

Location and Address

602 CL, Humanities Center