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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Commodification of Personal Letters: The Cultural Politics of Print Industry in Nineteenth Century England


Personal letters, which are written by an individual to specific person(s), are normally not mass communication products. Unless the writer intends to disseminate the letter to a large number through specific person, the domain of letter is what Jürgen Habermas (1981) has called “the immediate milieu of the individual social actor” and thus is not “public sphere” (p. 44). Nonetheless, many personal letters written especially by Romantic writers like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Jane Austen, exist in many anthologies since nineteenth century, and thus are easily accessible to any interested readers. The cause for this, according to Nichola Deane, is the writers’ “aware [ness] of the commercial value of their letters” (2005, p. 579). Another explanation, though in a different context but on the same matter i.e. analysis of a FM radio program Mero Katha, Mero Geet1, by Laura Kunreuther postulates, “[it is] a form of urban sociality that is rooted in the public expression and circulation of personal narrative and intimate affairs” (2004, p. 58). Both the explanations, despite their strength to certain extent, do not address the dialectics of authorship and print industry appropriately. Deane’s explanation is post hoc as it locates the cause on the false origin rather than on the real agent of publication. Similarly, Kunreuther’s statement tries to enliven an oldfangled Freudian notion of ‘the talking cure’ to analyze historical reality instead of analyzing the dialectics of material factors. Disagreeing both the views and using social change theory, this paper argues that the commodification of personal letters in the nineteenth century is the consequence of cultural politics of print industry. The application of social change theory demands for historical consciousness about the subject of study. Hence, the paper, before concentrating on the major issue: the cultural politics of print industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, sketches briefly the history of personal letters.

The genesis of personal letters is traceable at least to the time of writing culture if not to the beginning of human civilization. Looking back, we find many distinguished persons in the history like Isocrates in the fourth century BC, Quintilian in first century BC resorting to it on different occasions. Nonetheless, these instances are sporadic and the major marker of widespread use i.e. letter manuals exist only from around 1000 AD. According to Austin, (2007), “The earliest formulator of rules for letter writing as far as we know was Alberic of Monte Cassino c. 1075. His treatise was of course in Latin. The British Library has a formulary (the original name for a letterwriting manual) which is tentatively dated c. 1207 and was made for the Bishop of Salisbury” (p. 15).

Austin’s study demonstrates how scanty importance was given to letters till the date. And it appears that letters could hardly draw worthy attention despite the existence of manuals till the end of fifteenth century. Changes are visible only then. “As early as the 16th century,” Goldsmith (1989) says, “scholars made personal letter writing an object of formal study, recognizing the epistolary as an authentic literary genre” (p. 48). Erasmus wrote a treatise on letter writing for his English pupils in Paris: Libellus de conscribendisepistolis. This was first printed in England in 1521. Following his models, many other writers produced the manuals in this century. Of them Charles Hoole’s A Century of Epistles English and Latin, William Fulwood’s The Enemies of Idleness and Angel Day’s English Secretorie were the best-known manuals. The publication of Nicholas Breton’s volume of model letters, A Poste with a Packet of Madde Letters, in 1602 marks a drastic transformation.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Modernity and English mixing: A study of Nepalese television commercials

In this paper, I investigate the issue of English mixing in the discourse of Nepalese television commercials. More specifically, based on qualitative data taken from a total of four hours of Nepali TV commercials broadcasted on the major Nepali television stations – Avenues Television and Kantipur Television from 7am to 9am and 7pm to 9pm since 1 July to 1 October 2009, I examine the motivations for English mixing in Nepali TV commercials. For the analysis, primarily I categorize them into two major types, Nepali-only (NO) and English mixed (EM). NO includes commercials aired in Nepali only and EM includes advertisements aired in Nepali in juxtaposition with English. After it, I study the differences between EM and NO as the dichotomous treatment of NO and EM is critical in examining the purpose of English-mixing. The findings suggest that English-mixing in Nepalese TV commercials is a carefully constructed exemplar of the marketing of modernity.

Though the issue of modernity invokes geographical, socio-political, cultural and other concerns and emerges with the notions of alternative modernity (Appadurai, 1996; Gaonkar, 1999), “an ethnocentric prison” (Taylor, 1995, p. 28), “Ethnocentric diffusionist ideology” (Friedman, 2006, p. 429) and so forth, a very strong paradigm in modernity is a linear model. In this model, “[modernity] cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology: in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind (Berman, 1983, p. 15)”. Of such uniting factors one of the most influencial is the use of English language. In a sense, English use in any discourse signifies orientation of non-western traditional society’s population towards westernization and thus modernity.


Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: U of Minesota P. Berman, M. (1983). All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. UK: Verso.

Friedman, S. S. (2006). Periodizing Modernism: Postcolonial Modernities and the Space/ Time Borders of Modernist Studies. Modernism/ Modernity, 13 (3), 425-443.

Gaonkar, D. P. (1999). On Alternative Modernaties. Public Culture, 11 (1), 1-18. Taylor, C. (1995). Two Theories of Modernity. Hasting Center Report, 25 (2), 24-33.

Hypocrisy for Survival: Redefining Terrorism in Shalimar the Clown

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Published in 2005, Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie is made up of two interlocking narratives: one a love story in a beautiful setting, the other an assassination of the American ambassador in brutal manner. Set before “the catastrophic consequences of British India’s partition start to become clear” (Pitkin 258), the first story depicts Kashmir as a paradise with, multicultural, multi-faith tolerance and harmony. ... The second story, which culminates into an assassination of the ambassador, starts with the coming of Maximilian Ophuls, an American Ambassador to Kashmir. His fascination and subsequent elopement with Boonyi makes Salimar into “a rage-filled jihadist”. (Pitkin 258). ... Taking into the entire history of Salman Rushdie’s definition and redefinition of the term terrorism, I would argue that Rushdie’s redefinition of terrorism in Shalimar the Clown is hypocrisy for survival.

(This abstract is a part of an ongoing project)

Work Cited

Appignanesi, Lisa, and Sara Maitland, eds. The Rushdie File. London: Fourth Estate, 1989.

BBC. Iran adamant over Rushdie fatwa. 12 February 2005. 3 Apr. 2008 .

- - - . 1990: Iranian leader upholds Rushdie fatwa. 26 December 1990. 3 Apr. 2008 .

Brooks, Richard. "Rushdie: I was deranged when I embraced Islam." The Sunday Times. April 6, 2008. 3 Apr. 2008 .

Cape, Jonathan. "From Here to Kashmir." The Observer. September 11, 2005. 3 Apr. 2008 <,6121,1567063,00.html>.

Kemp, Danny. "Fatwa looms over Rushdie again." The Australian. June 23, 2007. 3 Apr. 2008 .

Lohr, Steve. "Rushdie Expresses Regret to Muslim for Book's Effect." The New York Times. 19 February 1989. 3 Apr. 2008 .

Lustig, Robin et al."Satanic Verses Row: War of the Word." The Observer. February 19, 1989. 3 Apr. 2008 <>.

Pitkin, Anabella. "Shalman Rushdie Loses His Cheerfulness: Geopolitics, Terrorism and Adultery." Journal of International Affairs. Fall/Winter 2007. Vol. 61, No 1. 5 Apr. 2008 .

Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown. London: Vintage Books, 2006.

Teverson, Andrew. "Rushdie’s Last Lost Homeland: Kashmir in Shalimar the Clown." The Literary Magazine. December 2005. 5 Apr. 2008 .

Village Voice LLC. "Tragic Realism." Joy Press. August 2005. 3 Apr. 2008 .

Whipple, Mary. "Salman Rushdie: Shalimar the Clown." Mostly Fiction Book Reviews. Oct 2005. 5 Apr. 2008 .