Big problems for small literatures: Goan literary history and its (non)place in the historiography of South Asian literatures

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Daniela Spina


The literature of Goa – one among the smallest states of India – has a rich corpus of texts written in four different languages, both European and vernacular, dating from the period of Portuguese colonial rule (1505 – 1961) and after. Although Goan literature is characterised by multilingualism, its history has only been written in Portuguese by members of the Catholic community (1864 – 1971). In most of the cases, this historiographical corpus neglects Hindu authorship and literary production in vernacular languages, such as Marathi and Konkani. The idea of Goan literary history has been built on the ruins of the Portuguese Empire, it reproduces the national model of European literary histories (HUTCHEON, 2002) and follows the teleological patterns of the narrative model (PERKINS, 1992). Based on exclusion criteria, Goan literary historiography is an interesting case study to reflect on theoretical and methodological tools for writing the history of literatures considered to be “small” or “minor”, or in a more generic way, of literatures raised in the shadow of great literary systems, such as Portuguese literature, but also Indian literature. As a matter of fact, if Goan literary historiographies performed an act of exclusion, Goan literary history is in itself an object of exclusion, since it was excluded from most, not say all, Indian and South Asian literary histories, or overviewing works. When thinking of a sustainable model of comparative literary history for Goan literature, what should the comparative frame be? Would a national Indian frame be too narrow and a South Asian frame too loose? Is it possible to challenge and criticise great conceptualisations, such as that of “South Asian literatures”, starting from small contexts? Can we address the problems of small literary histories as unsolved problems of big literary historiographies? These are among the many problems that my proposal wants to bring to light.

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Small and Minority Literatures and Literary Historiography