Robert Eaglestone presents enlightening topics regarding the history of English as an academic discipline. Who would’ve thought that “studying English literature was seen as a way of ‘civilising’ the native population”? (11) But, perhaps we should look more closely at this notion. Often times, people will say that having a background in English elevates an individual. You don’t need to “demand respect, but can command” it with the wealth of knowledge that English brings. Literature allows one to delve into times not lived, and bring about ideas never thought. It is presumptuous for the English to inundate the Indian population with literature, yet I’m personally grateful for such a path to have occurred. I do not support the coerciveness that must have taken place, but rather the simple introduction of valuing English literature. As a result, “the British formed the ideas of a school and academic discipline called English, which involved reading and writing about novels, plays and poems written in English.” They concocted what we, English majors, love so much. Had the British not propelled English as an academic discipline then…where would English have taken off? Would it be as valued as today or not?
In the beginning of the week, we discussed a text from Robert Eaglestone about the origins of English as its own topic and about the canon. I found the reading extremely interesting, especially the use of the English language and literature as a ‘tool of empire’. When attempting to keep control in colonized India, the British government decided to stray away from the tactic of imposing religion on a people to enforce their other ideas and superiority. Instead, they began to teach English to anyone who wanted to learn it. From the Indian perspective, the British were far more superior to them intellectually, and this was the source of their power. It was only natural, then, for the Indians to strive to learn English and study literature in English in the hopes of becoming intellectual equals—or perhaps even surpassing the British—and then forming a resistance to colonization. This idea that ‘knowledge was power’ led to a great deal of growth and acceptance of English, beginning in India. Whereas Eaglestone continues to discuss the canon and the other various steps taken to produce English as an actual concrete subject to be studied alongside philosophy, I am more interested in the results that this initial introduction of English had on the native Indians.
From other classes and sources read, I have found that the impact of English on India was profound. There is a current debate over what’s considered “Indian literature”—literature that has sprouted from the initial seed of English literature and language. Most of the literature produced in India or by Indians is written in English—a very interesting effect of British colonization tactics. Moreover, literature by Salman Rushdie—a native-born Indian now basically banished for writing The Satanic Verses—has been denounced by some critics as not true “Indian” literature. The rift which the division of English and the various languages of India (most commonly Hindi) is quite intriguing and shows that English does hold extraordinary power and worth in today’s society.