December 13, 2014 kb

When Change Means What?

This is the final post in a series of blog posts (that I began here, and continued here, here, and hereon Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things on the body, the nation, and postcolonial meta-narratives. In an attempt to parse the tensions I feel the in the book–and many others of its era–I continue my thoughts below. 

So, where does this all leave us? I began this series of blog post with an extensive close reading of one small, some might argue insignificant, scene in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. From this I concluded two things: 1) that the scene (and the novel as a whole) expressed a deep seeded anxiety around the concept of postcolonialism, and 2) this anxiety about postcolonialism pushes for an exploration of postcolonialism outside the structure (read: metanarrative) of postcolonialism.

The former looked at the conflict brewing in East Asia around Hong Kong’s return to the mainland and spoke the ways in which Hong Kong’s resistance against the concept of postcolonialism opened up a new, liminal, space from which scholars might position themselves when approaching postcolonialism. I argue that this Third Space might actually be captured through looking at migration, one of the lasting “bastions” of colonization. Unlike the term postcolonialism, which has come to represent the Global South in troubling and insidious ways, creating a particular metanarrative that fails to offer adequate space for divergent narratives, migration resists overarching generalizations because even in its absence, it is embedded in the body and it is through the individual body that metanarratives break down. Furthermore, the absence migration replicates the same consciousness we see in postcolonialism (that is, a consciousness of working through histories of colonialism), which perfectly positions it between two impossibilities: the colonial power on the one hand, and the postcolonial metanarrative on the other. In the novel itself, the anxiety of migration we see mirrors the anxieties explored in postcolonialism, without the threat of it becoming a metanarrative.

Postcolonialism as field, as set of practices, and a way of navigating overlapping liminal spaces offers a lot to those who come into contact with it (un)consciously.

All this is not to say, however, that postcolonialism as a consciousness is inherently misguided; in fact, the opposite is true. Rather, what has been increasingly evinced is the fact that the language we develop around and the imaginings we construct of postcolonialism can in fact become so generalized that divergent paths of (re)(de)(post)(neo)colonialism can be erased—to the detriment of the very groups that would use it to deconstruct their histories. The responsibility of teasing out the different strands, of course, lies with no one group.

This reading of The God of Small Things leaves much to be deconstructed. An interesting expansion of this paper may lie in looking at other postcolonial novels written in the nineties to see if the same anxieties around “postcolonialism” are visible. For example, might Vikram Chandra’s Red Earth and Pouring Rain, also published in the nineties, offer up the same approach to postcolonialism? What about now, nearly two decades later—do we see the same anxiety in the novels being published (particularly with the demonstrations in Hong Kong)? And what would happen if we looked at novels in languages other than English? Or will they, in fact, highlight another facet, a different Third Space—or no Third Space at all?




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