Both the shape and substance of literary studies have been dramatically transformed since the late 20th century by a growing interest in the transnational nature of literary production and circulation, and by explorations of how literature engages with forms of experience that transcend nation-state boundaries. During this period, the nation-state model for organizing literary studies has been augmented by a number of others, including comparative, multicultural, postcolonial, world, and global, that have dramatically transformed the geographical and cultural organization of the field. This shift has been accompanied by a wide range of theoretical work on the concept of the transnational. In addition, critical analyses of literary texts across a range of historical periods have paid increasing attention to the treatment of transnational and cross-cultural experiences in literature, so that the importance of the transnational as an organizing principle for scholarship and teaching has been matched by its emergence as a key subject of inquiry—and vigorous debate—in literary studies.
“South Asia” is the term used to refer to that part of Asia that comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. South Asian American literary studies emerged from the ethnic studies movements in the United States during the late 1960s. Asian American literary studies has analyzed poetry, fiction, memoir, and drama by writers of South Asian descent living in the United States, first by looking at the principal thematic impulses found in the writings and the literary techniques employed by authors from the early 1900s into the 21st century. Scholars have also argued that the worldviews and representations of South Asian American writers, sometimes considered within the category of “postcolonial” literature rather than multiethnic literature, gesture beyond the narrow confines of genre, nation, religion, ethnicity, and culture. South Asian American literary studies illuminates these texts’ unexpected connectivities, global vision, and entwined histories and highlights how those who read them have the opportunity to enlarge their consciousness.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
Twenty-first-century Asian American literature is a developing archive of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and multimodal cultural texts. As a field, it is marked by its simultaneous investments in exploring the United States’ imperial geopolitical relations and the concurrent rise of Asia. Global India, a shorthand for the nation’s ascendance onto the world stage after the liberalizing market reforms of the early 1990s, is discernible in Asian American—and particularly South Asian American—depictions of a range of figures including call center agents, entrepreneurial farmers, art gallery owners, and globe-trotting filmmakers. It is an India to which many writers imagine returning, given its heightened standing in the world economy and the prospect of American decline. This change marks a shift in the literature from the Americas being the primary locus of attachment to Asia as a site of possible reinvestment, both psychic and material. Asian American writers frequently focus on parallels between the experience of international migration and that of in-country migration to India’s major cities. They also tacitly register the rise of India in narratives about the abortive promises of the American dream. In comparison to Asian American literatures of the 20th century, which were primarily read as part of the multiethnic canon of American literature, Asian American literatures written under the sign of Global India are equally legible as part of diasporic, postcolonial, world, and global Anglophone literary formations. Many writers considered postcolonial in the 20th century may be profitably read in the 21st century as Asian American as well, whether because of a move to the United States or a professed affiliation. This expansion of the field is a consequence of the evolving diasporic and global imaginaries of Asian American writers and scholars.