Where postcolonialism is neo-orientalist – the cases of Sarojini Naidu and Arundhati Roy
This chapter on post-colonialism as neo-orientalist explores the colonialist filiations underlying post-independence representations of the colonised body, especially the female body. A study of the fin-de-siècle construction of Sarojini Naidu as Indian female poet in the 1890s, and of the literary and publishing phenomenon of Arundhati Roy in the 1990s, explores how, in almost imperceptible ways, the past of colonial discourse repeats itself upon the present that is post-colonial criticism. Here, too, the reified female body is a central, governing emblem. What is especially striking about the parallel instances of Naidu and Roy is how the several interconnections converge in the notions, on the one hand, of lyric complexity and emotional intensity, and, on the other, of singular femaleness. In the case of Naidu, this convergence is also explicitly tied in with her being oriental, and her explicitly orientalised poetry. The chapter also considers in broader terms the neo-orientalist underpinnings of post-colonial literary criticism from the west, based in part on its location in the neo-imperialist centre, and complicatedly manifested in the increasing prominence accorded Third World women writers.
The inflection of desire in Yvonne Vera and Tsitsi Dangarembga
This chapter extends the discussion of the interrelationship of gender and nation into an area rarely mentioned if not taboo in discourses both colonial and post-colonial, namely, the same-sex desire of women. By evoking women's unruly, erotic yearnings, the two prominent Zimbabwean writers Tsitsi Dangarembga and Yvonne Vera explore the libidinal energies that exceed, or leak out between the fractures of, the conservative post-colonial state. Queer sexuality, in point of fact, probably still constitutes what could best be termed a virtual non-presence, or at least a covert silencing, an ‘unsaying’, in post-colonial discourses generally and in African writing in particular. It is a surprising omission or occlusion considering that, since the 1960s, post-colonial theory and criticism have grown up in tandem with the emergence of a politics of identity and cultural difference, and are deeply informed by discourses of rights and of resistance to a variety of forms of oppression.
Postcolonial women writers in a transnational frame
This chapter returns to the question of how women writers, specifically of a younger generation, theorise and re-emblematise the nation in their work. Whereas some women writers choose to distance themselves from the nation as extraneous to their concerns, Yvonne Vera and Arundhati Roy are representative of a subtly different approach. In the face of neocolonial disillusionment and the erasures of identity threatened by globalisation, they extend the ‘revisionary scepticism’ concerning the homogenising nation they share with their male counterparts, yet strategically play off its different narratives – of patriliny and matriliny, of modernity and tradition – against one another. Avoiding the stance of spokesperson and the all-commanding epic voice, they reframe the male-defined co-ordinates of national selfhood in relation to other modes of situating identity, such as those of region, environment, belief and sexuality, without however refusing the nation altogether. The chapter also offers an intertextual commentary on Roy's first and to date only novel, The God of Small Things, and of her non-fictional polemic against transnationalism.
In some notable instances, women writers work to transform the male lineaments of the post-colonial nation. In others, they attempt merely to decipher and to modify its structures of privilege. Although the topics and texts discussed in this book have varied widely, the foregoing chapters have been linked by their shared concern with the strategies used by novel writers, women but also men, to recast the colonial and patriarchal symbolic legacies embedded in many versions of post-independence nationalism. A reading of the Indian writer Manju Kapur's first two novels focusing on Partition and the Ayodhya crisis, decisive moments in India's national story, closes this study, developing further the idea of the redemptive nation as a countervailing space for women as against the threats posed by communalism. The novels are Difficult Daughters (1998) and A Married Woman (2003).
Centring its insights in the border-traversing, world-opening capacities of
imaginative southern writing and reading, this chapter offers a closing
meditation on some of the more elusive meanings and heuristics of the south
that the collection calls up. Inspired by the same critical orientations
that the collection explores, it questions the extent to which the
conceptual and historical remoteness of the south can ever be fully
perceived and understood in geo-epistemological terms, arguing that
southness will perhaps always elude northern analysis to some degree, its
local and indigenous detail always slipping just beyond the frame. Efforts
to re-territorialise global intellectual production therefore face a
significant philosophical challenge that cannot be solved by a critical
theory predicated on dominant northern constructs. To see the ‘south in the
world’ means not just contemplating the world from the various perspectives
and orientations of its different southerly regions and their histories, but
also looking to the side, beyond ‘centres in modernity’, towards ‘composite
and overlapping’ Black and Indigenous realities. The south thus both invites
and makes possible archipelagic readings and heuristics, encouraging us to
think connectively and fluidly through and across its spaces. Resistance
emerges out of the structural flaws, gaps, broken links, and ellipses that
are endemic to any colonial-type assertion of planetary consciousness.