Writer explores politics of literature
Matthew McKenna | Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Indian-born French writer Shumona Sinh discussed her novels and their relationship to the political and social environments of the countries in which she has lived and worked during a lecture Tuesday titled “Literature and Activism: The Challenges of Representing the Impoverished Immigrant Other” hosted by French and Francophone Studies and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.
“Any writing, poems or novels, when we are touched by a sentence or an image or a metaphor, the writer is putting something that was right under our eyes into a new light,” Sinha said.
Sinha said she cares deeply about the topics on which her novels focus, so much so that she feels she must write about them.
“For me, even if I wanted to write a very romantic novel, I am unable to,” Sinha said. “If I do not write about what I think, then I am being dishonest.
“Think of a literary work as a big train. There are people getting off and going up and down; this is the human story. However, the thing that interests me is the engine, that is, the socio-political codes.”
Sinha said she uses her writing instead of physical activism to affect people and initiate change.
“I was in a political party that was a very restrictive organization,” she said. “I knew that if I joined something like that again, that it would crush me. Barriers would be placed around my work and I would be labeled as a certain kind of writer.
“My work is with words. If there are two people that are touched by something that I have written, and they are able to think differently, then that’s not bad.”
Sinha said she believes the private morals of individuals and the public morals of politics should be closely connected.
“I am quite stubborn in that I have my value system,” she said. “For me, stealing is bad. Lying is bad. But in the same way, I understand the nature of today’s politics. However, if you start thinking as a citizen that everything is fake, that all politicians are liars, then there is nothing to hope for, nothing to depend on.”
Graduate student Lauren LaMore said Sinha’s lecture prompted her to think about the correlations between literature and society and the possibility for words to generate actions.
“It was very cool for me to hear a writer talk about how she engages in society and different issues through literature,” LaMore said. “I took away that even if you manage to reach one person, even for an hour, it could change their relationships and how they view the world, which means everything.”
“This lecture is very much what Notre Dame tries to do,” she said. “They take a field of study and apply it and see how it can make a real difference.”