The Hungry Generation Between India and the US: World Literature and Global Poverty in the 1960s

January 24, 2019 - 12:30pm to 2:00pm

Location and Address

Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning

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with Alys Moody (2018-2019 Humanities Center Early Career Fellow, Macquarie University) and responses from Joseph Alter (Anthropology) & Greg Barnhisel (Duquesne, English)
It is well-known that US Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg granted India an important place in their worldview, imagining it as the site of drug-fuelled mysticism and exotic spirituality. This engagement, however, took place at a time when the US was turning towards India as a site of some strategic importance in the Cold War and a country whose poverty, to the eyes of some in the US administration, threatened instability on a global scale. In this context of late modernist exoticism, on the one hand, and geopolitically significant poverty, on the other, the Beat poets had a surprisingly under-documented encounter with a group of Bengali poets who called themselves the Hungry Generation. Ginsberg met some of these poets while travelling in India, but they rose to particular prominence in the US Beat poet scene when the Hungry Generation leader, Malay Roy Choudhury, was arrested in 1965 on obscenity charges arising from his poem “Stark Electric Jesus.” In this context, a number of Beat little magazines carried appeals from Roy Choudhury seeking financial and moral support, and published versions of his Hungryalist Manifesto. In 1966, a group of poets held a poetry reading benefit at St Marks Poetry Project in New York to raise funds for him, and in the years that followed a number of little magazines ran special issues dedicated to the work of these poets and their correspondence with US editors and writers. This paper examines published and archival documents from the encounter between the Hungry Generation and the US Beats. It examines the way this encounter participates in emerging discourses around world hunger and global poverty in the period, as well as the emerging institutionalization and marketization of world literature. Ultimately, it suggests that despite the countercultural ambitions of the poets involved, this encounter participates in the development of a market-based approach to both world literature and the problem of global poverty. In this, it anticipates the approach, strongly promoted by the US, which has come to define the contemporary neoliberal approaches to global inequality and global cultural production alike.


About Alys:

Alys specialises in modernism and world literature. Her research investigates how modernism has spread globally and through time. She is particularly interested in how modernist ideas about the nature and social function of art continue to shape literary and aesthetic thought and practice into the present.

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with Alys Moody (Macquarie University, Humanities Center Early Career Residential Fellow) and responses from Joseph Alter (Anthropology) & Greg Barnhisel (Duquesne, English)