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Professor Priya Joshi, Temple University

This paper explores the technologies of production and consumption of the 21st century global novel as the novel both summons and frustrates prevailing understanding of the book’s prospects. The digital public sphere has largely rewired how the novel circulates in today’s participatory culture. Fan sites, new writing platforms, and new markets for the novel such as India (hailed as “the biggest English language book-buying market in the world” by The Guardian) have reworked both the scale of the market as well as its accomplices. Big Five publishers play a smaller role as gatekeepers of production, while readers and their passions dominate today to an extent previously unimagined. 

Novels today appear to accrue markets and circulation with viral speed on social media platforms, a mechanism reminiscent of pre-medieval markets with their emphasis on interpersonal exchange and orality. The “republic of letters” lamented by scholars such as Pascale Casanova for ruthlessly “legislating” literary matters appears today in the hands of readers.  Those once sidelined in Darnton’s circuit now are its major players.   

The presentation draws on comparative research from nineteenth-century colonial archives and twenty-first-century publishing in India, the UK, the US, and Nigeria.  It offers a model for theorizing how the novel fabricates the contemporary market in which readers claim and command technologies of both production and consumption.   The paper proposes that the social lives of “books” are mediated by technologies but manufactured by consumers who conclusively command circuits far beyond their reach.  The paper’s research range establishes that new technologies of circulation and consumption have rendered sharply visible longstanding processes that historically shaped the novel’s success as a global cultural commodity.

Priya Joshi, Professor of English, Temple University, is a book historian and scholar of narrative who has published on the history and theory of popular forms such as the novel and Bollywood cinema.  She is the author of two scholarly monographs and one co-edited volume:  Bollywood’s India:  A Public Fantasy (Columbia UP, 2015); In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India (Columbia UP, 2002 and Oxford UP, 2003; winner of the Modern Language Association’s Prize for the Best First Book, the Sonia Rudikoff Prize for Best First Book in Victorian Studies, among others); and (ed.) The 1970s and its Legacies in India’s Cinemas (Routledge, 2014).  Joshi is currently completing a book that rethinks the theory of the novel based on anti-literary forms such as detective and pulp fictions produced outside the metropolis.  Her research has been supported by awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Institute of Indian Studies, and the Whiting Foundation.  

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Open University’s Postcolonial and Global Literatures Research Cluster and the History of Books and Reading Research Collaboration.  

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