I am a scholar-novelist. I write in different genres because the word is supple and powerful, sometimes more powerful than the sword.
I write fiction that is deeply researched, while my scholarship is driven by my practice as a novelist.
I teach at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in the English Department.
Here you will find links to books, short stories, scholarly articles, videos of presentations and interviews, other materials.
“The Ruse of Freedom: A Comparative Essay on Ahimsa and Freedom of Expression”
With the rise of authoritarianism across the globe, debates about freedom of expression have become increasingly urgent in countries like India and the United States. However, these debates do not manifest uniformly. In India the freedom of expression rights of a novelist like Perumal Murugan are denied, while in the U.S. freedom of expression rights are used by conservatives like Charles Murray in public campaigns to promote deliberately provocative speech. This essay compares the Murugan and Murray cases in the interests of advancing our thinking about freedom of expression. Opening new lines of inquiry into freedom of expression via a decolonization of theory, it underscores the limits of liberal Millian ideas and proposes the value of alternative neo-Buddhist notions of ahimsa.
Out in Cultural Critique
Go here to read
ALSO JUST PUBLISHED
“The Modern Adventures of Kanian Poongundranar, Classical Tamil Poet: Reflections on Literatures of the World, Vernacularly Speaking.”
In Vernaculars in an Age of World Literatures, ed. Christina Kulberg and David Watson (New York, Bloomsbury)
The “vernacular” is increasingly part of our contemporary critical vocabulary in seeking to understand the diverse literatures of the world. This essay explores the uses of this supple term–what it makes possible and where it meets its limits. Via repeated readings of Kanian Poongundranar’s magnificent classical Tamil poem/song “Yaadhum Oorey, Yaavarum Kelir” [Everywhere is my home, everyone my kin]. You will find the words quoted above in the banner of my website. That is how important I think the sentiment expressed by them is. The essay helps explain why.
Short story Chennai Block South: Intrusion of Untouchables
The story is speculative postcolonial climate-fiction, very much about the current pandemic, though I wrote most of it before the pandemic began.
Follow this link to read.
Moving Past the Tiresome Dead Ends of Free Speech Controversies (or, Ahimsa, Spiegelman’s Maus, and more)
Do you remember the commotion from a few weeks ago over Art Spiegelman’s Maus? When a school board in Tennessee removed his celebrated Holocaust graphic novel from the eighth grade curriculum for including profanity and nudity? Yes, that commotion. I have been thinking, and thinking some more about it. With mixed feelings. My first instinct, […]
An Intellectual History of Global Inequality is a terrific project based at Aarhus University in Denmark. Earlier this summer I was interviewed by them about my work as a novelist and a critic as it pertains to global inequality. I think because of my recent fiction and scholarship on caste and postcolonialism, and because of […]
S. Shankar / Person-Oriented vs Thing-Oriented Education: Why Now in the Midst of the Twin Crises of COVID-19 and the Racial Justice Uprisings We Need the Arts and Humanities More than Ever
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” –Martin Luther King In a speech at Riverside Church in April 1967, […]
Author in Focus Interview
GHOST IN THE TAMARIND
“S. Shankar captures well the rigidity of caste hierarchy in the countryside. . . . [T]his novel of forbidden love is well-crafted. It is also timeless.”
“[I]n its representations of cross-caste romance, its evocation of rural India from the twenties to the seventies, and its treatment of an important if lesser-known social movement, Shankar’s ambitious novel draws us into a rich and interesting world, and leads us through his characters’ intense emotional journey.”
South Asian Review
Guest edited Provocations forum on “The Vernacular” for South Asian Review is now out! Includes brief but terrific pieces by Bishnupriya Ghosh, Charu Gupta, Francesca Orsini and Nirmal Selvamony, with an introduction by me.
“The Languages of Love: An Essay on Translation and Affect” in Comparative Literature 69.1, 2017.
“Literatures of the World: An Inquiry” in PMLA 131.5, 2016. Critique of World Literature idea.
Review of Judith Butler’s book The Force of Nonviolence in Critical Inquiry.
VIDEO: On GHOST IN THE TAMARIND
More Praise for GHOST IN THE TAMARIND
Available for purchase here !
“S. Shankar’s Ghost in the Tamarind is an impressive achievement–a conscientiously woven narrative that concurrently takes into account two inviolable principles and attempts to find a balance in between: the truth as well as the invasive and often violent finitude of perspective. If the answers to history’s problems always arrive too late, a phrase I borrow from the novel, how should the history of the present be narrated in the agonizing interregnum between an unbearable present and an inconceivable salvific future? Relying on history not just as back drop but as its very backbone, Shankar’s novel creates a credible world whose realism is critically mimetic of its own conditions of possibility.” (R. Radhakrishnan, Chancellor’s Professor, University of California at Irvine)
“Ghost in the Tamarind is a novel that must be read not just for its historical
sweep but also for the power of storytelling.” (Nalini Iyer in the International Examiner)
“The narrative is rich with memorable characters and moments, along with a beautiful, sensual flow of language.” (Foreword Reviews)
“Subversions, transgressions, and transcending boundaries are at the center of Ghost in the Tamarind, and Ramu, a Brahmin with a revolutionary heart, is a fitting protagonist. One of the novel’s many pleasures is its seamless weaving of historical contexts, all the more impressive for its range, from the nineteenth century to the 1970s.” (Samrat Upadhyay)
“S. Shankar has created an ambitious and moving novel that traverses several crucial eras in India’s history. He has masterfully woven into it the lives of Ramu and Ponni, the heroic yet very human lovers who struggle against the bonds of colonialism as well as the prejudices within their own communities that threaten to destroy them.” (Chitra Divakaruni)
CASTE AND LIFE NARRATIVES
a special issue of the journal Biography
(and now published as a book in India by Primus)
co-edited with Dr. Charu Gupta of the University of Delhi
Click on image to go to the Project Muse site!