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This report is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

The Fissured Surface of Language in Indian English Poetry Tabish Khair

Language, as more than a medium and less than transparent, is a problem that any Indian writing seriously in English has to face with a greater degree of self-consciousness than that displayed by some of the best young British poets today. For example, Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell, as poets of a post-modern generation writing about an anglophone High Capitalist world, can afford to take the surface of language largely for granted as the site of their 'play'.

In spite of its dependence on a kind of reduced negative theology, postmodernism makes a positive statement in favour of (what else?) the surface. As Baudrillard indicates in his writings, the surface is arguably the main concern of postmodernism. But this - we're often told by post-modernists - is not a surface that goes beyond. For a surface that goes beyond will embroil us in matters of depth, history, causality, not grand perhaps but definitely sustained narratives. This concern with the surface is not just an item of belief for postmodernists; its existence can be discerned in much of contemporary criticism and some of contemporary poetry. Though, like everything that post-modernism claims as fact (or non-fact), the situation is much more complex than it appears on the surface.

Among the 'new' poets, Glyn Maxwell comes as close as anyone else to satisfying post-modern expectations of a largely depthless surface. His poems present a conscious playing around with language. But what is largely missing is the deep suspicion ...


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