The Opulence of Existence

Essays on Aesthetics and Politics

ISBN(s) 978-93-83968-21-3
Pub. Date December 2016
Pages pp x+298, includes references
Dimensions demy octavo 8.5 x 5.5 in.
  India Elsewhere
Paperback 978-93-83968-21-3
₨. 575

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This collection of essays offers a way of reading texts and testaments by suggesting that there is no dispute between critical skeptical thinking and our intuitive grasp of the opulent, shimmering matter that lies strewn all around us. One can wonder at the large forces of existence and yet colour such wonderment with a tenor of incredulity. That is how we deal with the ineradicable vehemence of life as participants and as observers. This could be called a counter-romantic way of approaching icons and images, confessions and treatises, journeys and turbulences.

Of the twenty-four essays collated here, several are close readings of a range of arts practices including literature, film and iconography. Others are about antinomian forms of political philosophy. Taken as a whole, the impulse of the essays is to do with the extraction of a certain utopian way of living, to weave ephemera into reality by and through which one hopes to catch the opulence of this our existence, without being overly optimistic.

Since art grapples with the ridiculous and the disgusting, the zany and the deadpan, the wrathful and the tenuous, its heretic possibilities are immense. It is this that the humanities must unleash against those who want to conserve harmonious social stratification and algorithmic disinterestedness.


The Counter-Romantic: An Introduction
The Speaker as the Listener
The Ecstatic Archaisms of Aurobindo Ghose
Bounty not Immersion
The Tamed Cynic and his Untamed Leaves
A Governing Tone of Stoic Regression
Fairly Directly to Death
An Empty Doublet, a Hat, and a Crooked Stick
The Aeolian School Balcony
The Diva and the Minister
Two Modes of Romance
The Abused Goddesses and the Fissures of Referentiality
Corporeal Incorporeality
Myths, Ephemera, Collective
The Picnic Managers
Anguish and Insurrection
On Patronage
Municipalising Nature
This Beautiful Parable of the May-Be Land
On Tyranny and the Strauss-Kojève Correspondences
Principle in Times Contingent
The Crossover is in the Mind
That Sun-Craving Crane
The Opulence of Existence

Cover photo: Tarun Bhartiya. Cover design: Asad Zaidi.


Iconoclastic, fervent, visionary, but insistently in touch with the harshness of much lived reality, Prasanta Chakravarty brings a welcome freshness to politically committed advocacy for the humanities. This is radical criticism that recognises the demands of scepticism and the hunger for inspiration in equal measure.

— Helen Small, University of Oxford

Prasanta Chakravarty’s wide-ranging essays are granular responses to hegemony. Each reflection is as systematic as it is non-systematic, allowing everyday and literary kinds of movement to burst theoretical and historical orthodoxies with their own, equally theoretical and historical force. What emerges is thought drawing political energy from texture. In this invaluable and original book, everything is up for rethinking under conditions that mean that not just anything can be thought.

— Rei Terada, University of California, Irvine

For some years, Prasanta Chakravarty’s blog Humanities Underground has offered some of the most incisive and thoughtful analyses of the questions facing the humanities. Now, in this valuable intervention, Chakravarty offers a set of ‘counter-romantic’ readings that repeatedly question received wisdom. These essays boldly put forth fresh and counterintuitive perspectives, whether reading Aurobindo as a vitalist thinker, illuminating the interstices of the everyday in Sikdar’s writing, arguing against the conventional understanding of Niebuhr as a Christian realist, analyzing Mamata Banerjee’s invocation of Suchitra Sen, or exploring what is involved in listening rather than simply presenting at a seminar.

— Ajay Skaria, University of Minnesota

About Prasanta Chakravarty Read full profile ›

Prasanta Chakravarty is Associate Professor of English at the University of Delhi. He is also the editor of the web-journal humanitiesunderground. His work on early modern radical heretic culture is published as Like Parchment in the Fire:... Read more

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