Dissertation submitted to the Department of Literary Studies
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in Literature
Prof Theo D’haen
Abstract Drawing on some of the ideas of Edward Said and Paul Gilroy, this study argues that “contrapuntal reading” (Said 1994) and an understanding that literary cultures are formed through a process of transnational 'call and response' (Gilroy 1994) are necessary for an approach to World Literature (Damrosch 2003). Focusing on the relation between Postcolonial theory and World Literature theory, the study will ‘world’ five well-circulated texts of the past half century: Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club (1964), Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988), Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage (1999), and Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land (1992). The study will explore the various ways that protagonists have sought to overwrite univocal nationalist paradigms or “predatory identities” (Appadurai 1995), particularly in times of political conflict, and by constructing transnational imaginaries such as gender solidarity, internationalism or shared histories. These alternative or larger communal and political affiliations are classified into ‘cross-nations’, ‘supra-nations’, ‘global nations’ and ‘everyday’ nations.
Chapter 1 compares the vision of the ‘international’ community in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) and Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club (1964), presented as a ‘supra-nation’ in the former and a ‘cross-nation’ in the latter. By considering the romances of the two novels as tropes for individual, societal and national assimilation, this chapter will examine how the main protagonists react to particular political stands taken by governments and political parties. Set against the Prague Spring and the Suez Crisis, respectively, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Beer in the Snooker Club posit the romances as ways to resist popular nationalist rhetoric. The chapter will delve into possible connections between Czechoslovakia and Egypt in the 1950s-60s, the contagion of protest in the decade of the sixties within and outside Europe, and the ideas of world solidarity that would colour international political alignments at the time, and would prompt new transnational imaginaries, often in resistance against the local political status quo.
Chapter 2 looks at the use of landscape in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988) and Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage: A Woman’s Journey from Cairo to America (1999) to explore the ‘subnational and transnational’, ‘universal and specific’ (Pizer 2006) points of dialogue in the gendered journeys of acculturation and conditioning. Touching on the intersections of race, gender, nation and religion, the chapter compares the way protagonists address local issues by drawing on an ethical ‘global nation’ of gender. Adopting Georg Brandes’s metaphor of a comparative literary ‘telescope’ (Larsen 2012) which can be maximised and minimised at will, the chapter moves in smaller concentric circles from the globe to the individual to examine how the protagonists ‘go glocal’, appropriating and describing landscapes to reflect the formation of their identities and resistance to their political situations. The argument thus proceeds from natural landscapes being designated as natural resources, then (national) territory, eventually narrowing to ornamental private gardens, the home, and finally the bedroom.
Chapter 3 examines how culture is essentially produced by crossing borders, geographically and temporally. It argues how Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land (1992) offers an organisational framework to studying key travel writing in Arabic produced during the tenth to the fourteenth centuries. Moving back and forth across centuries, and in light of Ghosh’s call for a united world culture and a resistant, subaltern historiography, the chapter describes how travel writing circulated across the interlinked system of flourishing towns of the region (Abu Lughod 1989) to eventually form a popular read/recited 'canon' of belles-lettres for a ‘sub-elite’ common reader (Mottahedeh 1980; Toorawa 2004; Schoeler 2009). The chapter discusses how the travellers and their texts complicate the concept of a ‘homogenous’, monolithic dār al-islām (abode of Islam), and teases out an alternative, secular literary history of Arabic-Islamic letters today. This ‘imagined community’ of transnational, ‘intermediate’ relations working beyond political borders (those of the nation-state in the present, and of the pre-modern town centres of the past) is referred to as the ‘everyday nation’.
The conclusion rises to the challenge of emphasising the theoretical work of Easterners on cultural encounter by introducing Taha Hussein’s vision of World Literature as mode of cultural exchange and production. It compares Hussein's ideas on World Literature to the critical debates and objectives of World Literature theory as it is understood in this study, and shows how Hussein’s work might shed light on the five modern works treated in the analytical chapters.
Table of Contents
Introduction. A Clarification of Terms
Chapter 1. Love in the Time of World Crises: Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club
Chapter 2. Gender Resistance as World Literature: Individual and Global Landscapes in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions and Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage
Chapter 3. Circumnavigating the Canon: Amitav Ghosh’s Antique Land between ‘Elliptical Refraction’ and ‘Double Mirrors’
Conclusion. World Literature: Negotiation and Equilibrium
Gratitude I would like to thank my supervisor Prof Theo D’haen without whose conscientious supervision and guidance my own ‘Bildung’-in-the-world would have taken a very different and undoubtedly much more provincial route. It would have been privilege enough to gain from Prof D’haen’s wide experience and penetrating academic insight if he had not also been a pillar of support: unstinting with his wise advice, unflinchingly patient with a four-year flood of questions of varying degrees of ignorance, unfailingly kind in pointing out my many and recurrent mistakes, and unceasingly tolerant of my academic whims of fancy. Above all, Prof D’haen introduced me to the pleasures and challenges of World Literature which has formed not just the core of my present dissertation but has overhauled many of my past assumptions and has effectively shaped my future interests. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful advisor or stellar example, and I am grateful to him for all. I fully intend to remain I think, one of his student-albatrosses, even at a long distance.
I would also like to thank Prof Ferial Ghazoul for agreeing to take me on, yet again, and for travelling from Cairo. Prof Ghazoul has been a mentor malgré elle to me in many ways. To her I owe learning the values of perseverance, pragmatism, and keeping sight of the objective. An academic and teacher of dynamic energy and humbling acts of kindness, Prof Ghazoul’s example will never leave me, even though I left her department some time ago.
There is still gratitude galore to be expressed, and I would like to thank Prof Ortwin de Graef, officially, the Vice Dean of Graduate Research, unofficially, the ‘Elvis of Literary Criticism’, for his support, his advice on where I might (successfully, as it turns out) seek research funding, and his helpful comments on my work in my second year.
I would not have been able to come to Belgium had it not been for an IRO scholarship, and I would like to acknowledge the way this grant has supported me and undoubtedly many others to further our studies.
Finally, my family, whom I can never thank enough for anything, have put up with what seems to have been a four-year bad mood. My mother Maha, my father Nabil, my brother Ahmed, and my husband Bassam have withstood it all: the tantrums, the whingeing, the untimely absences, the last-minute changes of plans, the various ‘sorry-I-can’t-I’m-doing-my-own- thing-in-Belgium’, but also the peculiar combination of PhD stress with revolutions, curfews, electricity shortages and erratic flight schedules. Mum and Bassam in particular, this would not have been possible without you. And Mum, this one’s only for you.
Any mistakes can be blamed on the muse.
A Clarification of Terms
This study argues that ‘contrapuntal reading’ is essential to a World Literature approach. By ‘worlding’ a number of well-circulated texts of the past half century, the study will explore various ways protagonists have sought to overwrite univocal nationalist paradigms and counter ‘predatory identities’, such as through gender solidarity, internationalism or shared histories. It will examine how protagonists evade and resist what they have learnt through their national conditioning in order to transcend limiting nationalist identities or otherwise restrictive imagined collectivities popular at the time of writing, and locate themselves as individuals with larger communal or political affiliations.
What is Contrapuntal Literature?
One way of envisioning the perspective of World Literature might be to consider it as literature that is essentially contrapuntal. In Culture and Imperialism Edward Said presents the idea of ‘contrapuntal’ reading as a way to reveal the discrepant cultural experiences expressed in the text, and simultaneously as a way out of the essentialist binaries which certain critical reading might enforce:
A comparative or, better, contrapuntal perspective is required in order to see a connection between [for example] coronation rituals in England and the Indian durbars of the late nineteenth century. That is, we must be able to think through and interpret together experiences that are discrepant, each with its particular agenda and pace of development, its own internal formations, its internal coherence and system of external relationships, all of them coexisting and interacting with others. (36)
To find out how dominant cultures maintain dominance over periphery cultures (in both the colonial past and how this past may play into present postcolonial and metropolitan identity discourses), Said argues that a revisionist but also future-oriented reading needs to be adopted. Accordingly, the “cultural archive of empires” needs to be read with a synchronised awareness and sensitivity to both the metropolitan history being narrated as well as the other histories against which, but also alongside which, the hegemonic history acts (56). Contrapuntal reading then, focuses on the main experience narrated in the text with an eye to the other experiences it suppresses or alongside which it takes place and revisits the past with an eye to the present and future.
Said explains his musical analogy further:
In the counterpoint of Western classical music, various themes play off one another, with only a provisional privilege being given to any particular one; yet in the resulting polyphony there is concert and order, an organized interplay that derives from the themes, not from a rigorous melodic or formal principle outside the work. In the same way, I believe, we can read and interpret English novels, for example, whose engagement (usually suppressed for the most part) with the West Indies or India, say, is shaped and perhaps even determined by the specific history of colonization, resistance, and finally native nationalism. At this point alternative or new narratives emerge, and they become institutionalised or discursively stable entities. (59-60)
In this manner, reading with an awareness of the intertwined geographical/cultural expansions of empires, that is, both the propagation of superior and distinctive national cultures and the continuous resistance to them: a) renders a deeper reading of the colonial experience –imperialist and resistant– by which both metropolitan and colonised histories and cultures were shaped, b) gives voice to the silenced or ‘suppressed’ engagement with ‘Others’ in the text, and c) potentially decentres the institutionalised (metropolitan, racial, ethnic, etc.) experiences which are posited as pure and prior, incognizant or emulative of, or indifferent to, each other.
Published in the same year as Culture and Imperialism but focusing on black studies, Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic resisted the exclusivist tendencies of both the nationalist-bound thinking exemplified in traditional Euro-American ideals of ‘modernity’ as well as what Gilroy regarded as the worst excesses of racial purity in ‘black nationalism’. Like Said, Gilroy criticised the obliteration of the distinctive black historical experience within the experience of (Euro-American) modernity. Moving from the institution of slavery as the source of migrating labour by which ‘civilisations’ have always been built to late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century black literature, culture and emancipation movements, Gilroy argued that the development of black culture in its diasporic and migrant communities in modern times created models of cultural flux and innovation integral to the idea of modernity itself. Hence, he states, “the time has come for the primary history of modernity to be reconstructed from the slaves’ point of view” (55), not simply by including a number of black narratives in the canon to be studied, but by calling for an acknowledgment of the “inescapable hybridity and intermixture of ideas” through conversation and reciprocity (xi). Delving into the work of key black artists and philosophers, Gilroy examined how they contributed to avant-garde cultural movements of the twentieth century by drawing on modern Western ideas but also by resisting the ‘project of modernity’ itself in order to express the ambivalent existence of black communities as being within the West but not quite of the West.
It is in a chapter on black music that Gilroy uses a similar ‘contrapuntal’ analogy as a way of approaching black artistic expression: call and response. “Antiphony (call and response) is the principal formal feature of …[black] musical traditions…. a bridge from music into other modes of cultural expression, supplying…the…keys to the full medley of black artistic practices” (78). He clarifies the pattern with quotes from Toni Morrison, who refers to this movement in her writing as “slapping and embracing, slapping and embracing” (78), and Ralph Ellison who calls it “a cruel contradiction….of individual assertion within and against the group…[representing] his identity: as individual, as member of the collectivity and as a link in the chain of tradition” (qtd. in Gilroy 79). Gilroy explains how call and response is essential to the making –and reading– of cultures:
[T]here is a democratic, communitarian moment enshrined in the practice of antiphony which symbolises and anticipates (but does not guarantee) new, non-dominating social relationships. Lines between self and other are blurred and special forms of pleasure are created as a result of the meetings and conversations that are established between one fractured, incomplete, and unfinished, racial self and others. (79)
These ‘new, non-dominant social relationships’, the ‘democratic’ manifestations of ‘communitarian’ practices resemble Said’s potential ‘alternative or new narratives’ which by repetition (and further variation) become ‘institutionalised or discursively stable entities’.
Drawing on the call and response pattern, Gilroy illustrates how certain black forms of music in the 1960s, for example, could bring Africa, America, Europe and the Caribbean seamlessly together. He then concludes:
The very least which this music and its history can offer us today is an analogy for comprehending the lines of affiliation and association which takes the idea of the diaspora beyond its symbolic status as the fragmentary opposite of some imputed racial essence. It is revealed to be a place where, by virtue of local factors like the informality of racial segregation, the configuration of class relations, and the contingency of linguistic convergences, global phenomena such as anti-colonial and emancipationist political formations are still being sustained, reproduced, and amplified. This process of fusion and intermixture is recognised as an enhancement to black cultural production by the black public who make use of it. (95)
Gilroy’s contention seems to be that the fusion and intermixture demonstrated by call and response is essential to an understanding of how culture in general works and is produced, but also how resistance works within, through and against networks of dominance, and vice versa. In a globalised world antiphony itself has changed from being a tidy ethnically-encoded dialogue. Not only has the original call become increasingly harder to locate, but groups of sounds all compete with each other so as to give the most suitable reply. To privilege the primary call (and response) is to forget that communicative expression is neither a unique essence(110) nor is it undifferentiated heterogeneous babble.1
Both Gilroy and Said prioritise the need to revise or re-read texts from the periods of rising nationalism and national-resistance movements in order to examine and question the dominating objectives of cultural histories that propagate nationalist purity, as well as to render visible the ellipses and silences of an all-too-complacent idea of progress that does not mention by whose loss ‘progress’ is gained. Gilroy and Said envision, however, certain aspects of the communal or national cultures which are supposed to ‘play music together’ so to speak slightly differently. For Said, the centrality of the nation as a political unit essential to the production and circulation of the texts (narrating ‘experiences that are discrepant, each with its particular agenda and pace of development, its own internal formations, its internal coherence and system of external relationships, all of them coexisting and interacting with others’) entails that the different cultures or contributions are to be seen as independent but not purist or exceptional; interconnected but not necessarily assimilative into either one unit or a new ambiguously-hybrid third; and finally, culturally interdependent where one culture depends on the image of the other to construct itself. Texts then are to be read “with a simultaneous awareness both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those other histories against which (and together with which) the dominating discourse acts” (Said Culture and Imperialism 56). Gilroy’s essentially non-national or transnational concept of the black Atlantic, however, prioritises the subversively a-nationalist “intermediate concepts, lodged between the local and the global, which have a wider applicability in cultural history and politics precisely because they offer an alternative to the nationalist focus which dominates cultural criticism” (Gilroy 6). Gilroy, then, focuses on rejecting the essentialism of any, particularlyracial, culture, even if it is, has become, or for that matter might become a nation-state.
The analogies of ‘contrapuntal’ and ‘call-and-response’ reading are significant for what these views attempt to transcend of the solid binaries often marking Postcolonial, subaltern, post-Soviet, etc., critical endeavours. Despite suggesting a ‘harmonious’ (the word is not ideal) or organised textual whole, these movements or musical conversations highlight the very important conflicts and transactions that have shaped cultures, whether through colonialism or enslavement, through spread of religion or trade, or by consent or coercion. Postcolonial studies in its earliest ‘disciplinary manual’, Ashcroft et al’s “hypercanonised”2 work on Postcolonial theory, presents the characteristics of postcolonial writing as that which delves deeper into native cultures, re-works colonial art forms, and ‘writes back’: countering, or rather de-centring, the literary nationalism of the great European powers by posing first-and third-world cultures as primarily, and hence, essentially, antagonistic. Viewing different literary cultures contrapuntally, however, acknowledges the political antagonism that Ashcroft et al. pose, but refutes that this antagonism lies between essentially discrepant entities. Rather, contrapuntal or call-and-response reading seeks to examine the relations of political resistance, where being opposed does not necessarily mean being opposite, and where political resistance aims to throw out the bathwater of political dependence but save the baby of political attachment.
As a natural corollary to their objectives, the first places to revisit indicated by both Said and Gilroy are the texts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For Said (who also goes back further in time) the texts of empire at its heyday (‘the cultural archives of empires’ as he puts it) show the inescapable presence of the colony at the peak of supposed imperial indifference; and so by reanalysing the archives which narrated the rise of global forms of dominance, with the aim of searching for the experiences of the colonies, a wider decentring project of literature and literary history might be achieved. For Gilroy, focusing on the almost century-old heyday of black resistance underscores the intrinsic presence of black culture in all cultures, and aims to decentre notions of purist ‘white’ or ‘black’ cultures. As Gilroy rather exasperatedly puts it: “If this appears to be little more than a roundabout way of saying that the reflexive cultures and consciousness of the European settlers and those of the Africans they enslaved, the ‘Indians’ they slaughtered, and the Asians they indentured were not, even in situations of the most extreme brutality, sealed off hermetically from each other, then so be it” (2).3
As Postcolonial theorists have called for revisiting the colonial archives, so World Literature theorists have called to revisit the (already variable) list of Western best works, or the Western canon. To bring the perspectives of contrapuntal reading or call and response to bear on the efforts of ‘expanding’ the Western canon in the field of World Literature, reading the ‘canon’ contrapuntally, which contains the ‘classics’ or culturally-emblematic texts repeatedly and most particularly ratified by empires and nation-states, also brings forth the many different local literatures, each with their subjective experiences, already subsumed within the ‘Western’ canon: preceding it, responding to it and proceeding alongside it.
Reading World Literature: Contrapuntally
When David Damrosch’s pointedly-titled “Rebirth of a Discipline” asserts that founders of Comparative Literature like Hugo Meltzl and Hutcheson Macaulay Posnett had global objectives, namely, to “counter the literary nationalism of the European great powers: first, by widening the field to include masterpieces of other cultures…and second, by expanding the European arena to include the literatures of smaller countries” (5), he taps into precisely that which key theorists in Postcolonial and related disciplines (often working under the established umbrella term of Comparative Literature) have been doing for the past decades. Since the flagship Orientalism (1978), Postcolonial theory has often worked to expand the range of read material particularly from ‘minor’ cultures, has adopted revisionist readings of texts often aiming to highlight the texts’ submerged ‘Others’, and has gone further back in time to revisit the ‘classics’ (Young2001; Robbins 2012b).
Prompted by the historical circumstances of ‘nation-making’ in the late colonial, early postcolonial and Cold War periods, one of the particular concerns of Postcolonial theory has been to re-examine the cultural flux that went into ‘building’ the nation-state, and later, at least in some countries, went into reforming the state and building citizenship. Since the process of cultural flux and transnational literary reciprocity had been one of the early debates discussed by key figures of the modernist national movements in colonised countries, one of the subjects for critical enquiry post-independence has been the pluralist (or contrapuntal) cultural landscapes of the colonial/postcolonial period –in other words, ‘modernity and its discontents’, both as historical process and as a historical consequence.4 In this context key works from related disciplines such as Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition (1983) and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1982) became essential to much Postcolonial theory, revitalising its examination of nation-formation and nationalism, and making integral both the relation of print culture (particularly the novel) to the nation, as well as the state of ‘fantasy’ required to construct and maintain ‘national sentiment’ and affiliation.
While the works of Damrosch (2003; 2009a; 2009b (ed.); 2009c), Casanova (2004) and Moretti (2000; 2003) seem to spearhead discussions on World Literature there has appeared quite a large corpus of key texts on the topic in the past two decades, either singly-authored such as those of Apter (2006), Pizer (2006), Rosendahl Thomsen (2008), Kadir (2011), and D’haen (2012d), or multi-authored such as those by Prendergast et al (2004), Behdad et al (2011), Papadima et al (2011), and D’haen et al (2012c; 2013). Key works on the topic share the underlying proposition that World Literature concerns texts which have circulated widely across borders, often through translation, and have affected cultures outside their local communities. Bringing to the fore markets and readership as the practical toolkit by which culture is transferred, transmitted and transformed, Damrosch describes a movement of ‘elliptical refraction’, that is, a contrapuntal reception of a single work or author, whether in international circuits or in pre-modern times, “for established classics and new discoveries alike” (What is World Literature? 5).
In Damrosch’s approach, contrapuntal reading connects the metropolis to the colonised culture, but also connects cultures whose histories are intertwined by other ways than colonialism in order to examine how these diverse networks shed light on the way the texts function as literature. Since these networks are neither a-historical nor fixed, changing in directional flow and modes of transfer (see, for example, Appadurai(1996)), the ‘link’ between, on the one hand, Postcolonial theory, which focuses on the relation between metropolis and colony, and is seen as primarily ‘political’, ‘engaged’ or ‘ethical’, and on the other hand, the ostensibly more a-political ‘World Literature’ approach that traces the trajectory of a work as it moves from (any) one location to another, remains ripe for the picking (see Young 2012; D’haen 2012d 133-51).
An approach that makes use of the best of Postcolonial theory and World Literature would be to read texts contrapuntally, with an eye to highlighting the submerged or suppressed ‘Other’ in texts that circulate, and therefore have some influence outside their local cultures. Focusing on the submerged, less apparent ‘Other’ in the text, and comparing the texts with related ‘Othered’ texts in the world, entails revealing and prioritising the minor cultures embedded within and interacting with major cultures. This approach refutes the presupposition that just because a comparison has been made then the texts automatically become ‘of’ equal cultures, and therefore makes resistanceto homogeneity, whether on the level of the text (considered nationally-representative), on the level of the world market (considered a compendium of equally-placed contributors), or on the level of the canon (considered as regional –Western or Eastern), a primary condition of what Aamir Mufti has called a “global comparativism” (Mufti “Global Comparativism”).
By virtue of the common objectives of Postcolonial theory and World Literature, to read world literature contrapuntally might mean to highlight the resistance to the dominant exclusionism at the heart of the national imaginary, even as the nation-state remains mediator and organising framework. To read world literature contrapuntally entails challenging the idea that a world text is a product circulating simply and solely in an ‘arena’ of ‘free’ competition between equal and consenting players, but also challenging the idea that ‘national’ literature itself is the select output of equal, representative and analogous individual contributors. To closely examine texts that travel means keeping an eye on the discordant, interdependent cultural-historical experiences narrated by the texts, and also mapping them to become aware of larger analytical patterns, whether through mapping translation markets, free or forced trade, expansion of modern or ancient empires, free or forced mobility of peoples, or otherwise. Finally, to read the world in the text, or to ‘go glocal’ contrapuntally is not simply to acknowledge a wider, expanded literary canvas, but also to acknowledge that, as Shami puts it: “[T]he global and local are interpenetrated realities, and transnationalism and ethnonationalism are intertwined solidarities, sentiments and practices…[T]o see global/local processes and trans/ethno-nations in terms of schismogenesis, as categories that progressively divide populations in time and space, is to miss the way that they not only inform one another but actively construct one another” (104).
The consideration of there being a minor or less-apparent Other is important, as many of the moves to revisit the international or cosmopolitan horizons of Comparative Literature’s founders by theorists of World Literature make clear (see, for example, Damrosch “Rebirth of a Discipline”). Such re-readings have found it useful to recognise that the global aspirations of Comparative Literature’s key figures and their motivations to seek new international limits relate not a little to their own positions as Others: as exiles and migrants (such as Auerbach and Wellek), as bicultural scholars (such as Posnett), or as specialists in non-European, particularly Oriental, disciplines (such as Goethe, or more recently, Etiemble).
Highlighting the Other as active participants in world culture-making, however, makes it important to discuss specifically the different concepts of World Literature theory appearing outside core countries. Tagore’s understanding of World Literature cannot have been an exception, and he can be joined by at least Taha Hussein from Egypt (more in the Conclusion) and José Lezama Lima from Cuba.5 Like their theorist counterparts in Europe and the US, it is important to take notice of what might have motivated such figures in their diverse times and places to encourage a comparative approach to literature, or to question where the incentive and perhaps requirement to weigh and balance, compare and contrast various literary cultures came from. The conditions for such aspirations towards the great wide world of a ‘comparative-international’ are as significant for less-spoken languages outside the postcolonial paradigm which need to ‘compete’ or dialogue, depending on whom you ask, with global ones, as it is for pre-colonial global ones, such as Arabic, which, as they became global, interacted with and consumed smaller ones (more in Chapter 3).
Implicit within Damrosch’s definition is “not just …how such literature circulates far from its birthplace but also…how it then crosses paths with local, earlier literary traditions, transforming them while, concurrently, being transformed in the process” (Ricci 498). One of the underlying issues dealt with by Postcolonial theory is the transformative process of ‘national’ cultures, and the way they came into a political state-of-being with the appropriation of ideas and cultural artefacts from other cultures, rooted as these nation-making endeavours, dilemmas or disasters have been in the necessity of adapting to an increasingly widening network of connections.
From this perspective Gilroy and Said of course have not been the only key writers to theorise the inherent interplay of modern cultures. Other theories of such cultural flux include Lionnet’s métissage (1989; 1995), Bhaba’s concept of the hybrid and the ‘unhomely’ (1994), Pratt’s “contact zones” (1992) and the concept of the subaltern reformulated (and later expanded) by Guha and others in Subaltern Studies (1982 to present).6 The musical analogies, however, of contrapuntality and call and response offered by Said and Gilroy7 stand out for their refutation of the idea of two essentialist forces which, connected or disrupted by colonialism, create a fuzzy transnational third form, an idea appearing, for example, in such theories as Bhabha’s hybridity and Lionnet’s métissage.8 Drawing on Caribbean and Latin American resistance literature, Lionnet’s idea of métissage reuses the initially inferior concept of ‘half-castism’ as a source for cultural subversion and political empowerment. Like Bhabha’s notion of the ‘world literature of diasporic communities’, the literature of the métisses offers an opportunity for a new transnational: a global empowerment for those living ‘in the margins’ as being essentially different from those in the centre, but rather than essentially pure, this time, always essentially blurred. These semi-global and distinctive solidarities reflect precisely the essentialist ethno-identitarian premises that Said and Gilroy decry. Instead, Gilroy and Said seem to make clear that different cultural imaginaries, primarily racial for the former and national for the latter, are as necessary for the appearance of new and future cultural forms as they had been integral for the appearance of older ones. Both Gilroy and Said then stress that the process of cultural flux is multivocal, reciprocal and of a long duration. This reciprocal pattern differs from, for example, Bhabha’s theory of hybridity which seems bi-vocal and reactive from beginning (mimicry) to end (hybridity). For Gilroy and Said the analogies of contrapuntality and antiphony (including the hybridity or métissage the larger cultural process itself may include) attempt nothing less, if used as an analytical approach to texts, than a ‘global comparativism’, a ‘planetary’ Comparative Literature (Spivak).
From the perspective of Said’s idea of contrapuntal reading and World Literature theory’s geographical ‘border-hopping’, that is, by going further back in time, expanding in space, and revealing the plural experiences suppressed in the text, it is possible to see that there has always been a world literature occurring through exchange and fusion. The Bible is a case in point.9 A world text, however, is not the same as a discipline of World Literature, and the precise significance of transnational and comparative approaches is that they emphasise long-standing and reciprocal textual and cultural connections and exchanges between the peoples of the world. Ultimately, this requires revisiting transnationally-shared cultural pasts, modern or pre-modern, with the intent of revealing the submerged experiences of Others.
As Djelal Kadir’s Memos from the Besieged City demonstrates, world literature, world writers –Great literary writing and narrative from pre-modern times to the present has always involved, in a contrapuntal movement, the Other. Kadir himself takes up Said’s term in his conclusion: “Comparative literature’s mission…is contrapuntally dual –at once integrative and analytical. The discipline draws its vigor and focus from contending pluralities of difference and commonality, its raison d’être grounded in highly self-aware tasks of discovery, detection, recognition, differentiation, classification, and juxtaposition” (205). In this way contrapuntal reading has as its objective reaching an awareness of the transactions, interventions and transformations of and between local and trans-local cultures in the form of the author, on the level of the text or in the community. As such Said’s Orientalism moves from Dante to al-Jabarti and Auerbach; Kadir’s Memos moves from Rashiduddin Fazlullah to Nicholas of Cusa and Hannah Arendt; Lionnet’s Postcolonial Representations moves from St. Augustine to Nietzsche and Maryse Condé. In much the same way as World Literature posits that “seen together with Sophocles, Kalidasa, and Brecht, Shakespeare looks different than when he is viewed only in the company of compatriots like Marlowe and Jonson” (Damrosch “Frames for World Literature” 3), so Postcolonial theory has sought to show that in the company of Othello, Shylock, Cleopatra and Caliban, characters like Desdemona, Antonio, Caesar and Prospero, too, look different. Trans-border comparative work anchored by postcolonial consciousness takes this further by showing how Othello looks different when the play travels ‘onwards’ back to the countries of the ‘moor’ (Ghazoul The Arabization of Othello).
In the past few decades new global imaginaries have arisen; ‘the world’ as it frequently tends to do, has changed once more. Consolidation of immigrant communities (and the debates in different countries over the free movement of peoples and immigration laws); intensive migration of labour; the continuation of communal violence from war to terrorism (and the debates around civil wars and foreign policy) have inevitably entailed more refugee, migrant and diasporic communities. The increasing linkage of networks through mass communication which has made such communal restlessness more immediately and more highly public has contributed too to reconceptualisations of the interconnectedness of the world. Simultaneously, Orientalism as the flagship work for Postcolonial theory itself has become a world (critical) text producing profuse scholarship. The constructed Orient –in Said’s 1978 text largely North Africa and the Middle East– had become much larger by Orientalism’s twenty fifth printing (1994). The Postcolonial has become ‘global’ in a way, and more of the previously colonised/represented in imperialist discourses have identified themselves as postcolonial, including post-Soviet states but also Russia itself (vis-à-vis Western Europe), Japan, China, Ireland and India (Said “Preface”). This globalised interconnectedness of scale and speed prompts a heightened reconsideration of the literature that it produces (see, for example, Krishnaswamy and Hawley).
By pushing the period of ‘globalisation’ or global networks a little further backwards, to the beginning of the twentieth century when empires were at their widest, Elleke Boehmer’s “Global and Textual Webs, or What Isn’t New About Empire” questions globalisation’s historical time-frame and linear chronology. Although globalisation is often seen as “an entirely new, unprecedented phase” coming as the latest phase after the heyday of imperialism, and then after the triumph of the ‘small nation’ (14), Boehmer suggests instead that globalisation might have begun a little earlier, for the beginning of the (last) century too had been marked by a previously unseen pace of networking that both connected the power structures or controls of empire as well as the global resistances to it. Such global resistances, (networking between metropolis and colony but also between colony and other colony) “were always already operating within [empire’s] grids, appropriating and subverting [its] transnational forms of operation” (23).10 As such, periods of ‘national liberation’ such as the period from 1947 (India’s independence) to 1989 (the fall of the Soviet Union) where the ‘small nation’ rules supreme is not an end point but “a historically aberrant period, or at least a digression from the increasingly more globalised phase in which we again find ourselves” (23).
A longer, more deeply examined history of ‘globalisation’ as a mode of world-networking, then, but also a longer history of empire, and a longer history and future of resistance: it is arguably here that Postcolonial theory and World Literature may most obviously conjoin, and where contrapuntal and call-and-response reading may avert the ostensible dangers of essentialist polarisation of the former and the threat of universalising deracination of the latter. Following from a longer history of empire: early modern and pre-modern empires were not homogenous (although they are sometimes conceived as such when posited as ‘precursors’ of modern national identities) and allowed the circulation of world texts that have in modern times often been adopted as founding ‘national’ canonical works (more in Chapter 3). To go back in time, from the critical perspective in the present, is to weigh down and privilege these canonical texts (and our understanding of the cultures which produced them and in which they have circulated) with the accumulated interpretations of and insights into the silences of history.
To look forward too is important, particularly since national resistance has continued after 1989. Postcolonial cultural production or theory does not simply end with the termination of political occupation of various areas: let alone if occupation has ended only in some areas (McClintock 1992; Said 1994b; Shohat 1997); has left behind, as part of the imperialist inheritance along with good roads and sturdy administrative centres, rabid political divisions (Carroll et al), has sustained political alliances which have threatened stability and democracy in the once-colonised regions; or may have receded only to re-emerge in different frameworks such as neo-colonialism and dependency (Hardt and Negri; Young 200144-56). More widely, neither the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989-91 which was followed by secession movements and civil strife around central and eastern Europe, nor the dissolution of major European empires in the 1940s-90s and the rise of the ‘small-nation’ dictator in the third world, have signalled the end of the exclusionary and exceptionalist nationalist rhetoric that had initially characterised and marked the expansion of modern empires. Such rhetoric still underlies, and not very subtly, superpower rhetoric as well as the political rhetoric of those now-independent states whose governments have failed to instate democracies and who are content to reaffirm the discourses of cultural binaries and imperialist conspiracy theories for their own local political agendas. Moreover, in states around the world, within Europe and outside it, multilingual and multireligious populations, not necessarily or strictly ‘postcolonial’, have also chosen to resist under-representation in what they perceive as a state which has become too ethnically-nationalist (and socio-economically imbalanced), as, for example, in the respectively-specific situations of Quebec/Canada, Flanders/Belgium, Scotland/UK, and Catalonia/Spain. The local and regional respective situations are of course vastly different. Yet ‘post-Postcolonial’ resistance, if conceived as a wider discourse for political and cultural emancipation and liberation, for inclusion in power structures, or as a continuing site for struggle of restless nationalisms appears as an integral part of ‘nation-making’ in the form of calls for national liberation, national secession, national citizenship, asylum rights and otherwise. If the principle of liberation was not ground enough for a more global comparison of resistance, such movements themselves have often been interconnected and mutually inspired (more in Chapter 1).
In its potential political affiliations, rather like gender studies to which it has often been linked, Postcolonialism has offered an additional chance for literary studies to be directly active within the ‘real’ world. The implication of globalised literary study (see Said “Globalising Literary Study”) potentially points to a sensitised awareness of the continuous changes in political economy and in networks of cultural interdependence and information transmission. This sensitised awareness too might suggest that much of the responsibility of the resistant, sceptical or worldly impulses of the discipline lies on the role of the critic, exemplified perhaps by a stance of constant vigilance to one’s own centrism. The specialised reader then, rather than being a surveyor who is interested in all the world’s stories, however many, becomes instead someone who makes of reading literature an ethical choice (Said 2001; Robbins 2012b; Appiah). Making reading an ethical matter seems also another way out of essentialist ‘ethnic’ discrepancies for it entails revealing, acknowledging and highlighting the attempts at resistance around the world, across the first-/third- world divide. Despite the seeming obligation to question the dominance of ‘Western’ culture, no region or peoples has had a monopoly on resistance and critique. Whether adopting an ethical engagement might be the kind of intellectual pursuit everyone may aspire to adopt, resistance, Postcolonial, World –contrapuntal literature, in its constant objectives to decentre and subvert but also to extend and connect makes the study of literature itself more pertinent, ethical and ‘rooted’. Postcolonial theory, World Literature or reading the Other across borders and against homogeneity constructs a world that seems epidemically beset with the kind of national complacency that would guarantee the cultural extermination of others, but it also reveals a world equally and simultaneously beset with a tenacious resistance to complacency, cultural monocentrism and images of stultifying, unidirectional cultural flows.
Many detractors of World Literature (Spivak (2003); Tanouhki (2008); Figueira (2010))11 and its various disciplinary approaches seem to focus on its demerits as a pedagogical practice in the North American academy. Master lists of best works that address monolingual students (the bi-and tri-lingualism often required by top universities aside) offer an alarming vision for literary specialists who fear that this might push the comparative literary perspective into a non-contextual, a-historical survey-type approach. Some probably also see it as ringing the death knell of their own particular niches of study, especially in light of the dependence of such niches, like others, on economic relations between the US and the rest of the world (with the direction of supra-university funding into scholarship on certain areas of the world rather than others). Such fears within the national pedagogical domain are beyond the scope of this study, although it will be noted that they have not only appeared with the popularity of World Literature (see, for example, Toorawa “Why I am not an Africanist”).
Particularly pertinent to this study, however, is the overlap between World Literature and Postcolonial theory in their focus on resistance against cultural homogeneity and national chauvinism. “Criticism is worldly and in the world so long as it opposes monocentrism…[that is] working in conjunction with ethnocentrism, which licenses a culture to cloak itself in the particular authority of certain values over others” (Said “The World, the Text, and the Critic” 53). Or as Moretti puts it –a critic whose reading approaches seem to lie on an opposite plane from Said’s: “The point is that there is no other justification for the study of world literature but this: to be a thorn in the side, a permanent intellectual challenge to national literature –especially the local literature” (“Conjectures” 68). As alarm bells still ring from detractors of World Literature who feel naturally sceptical of statements of good global intentions, proponents of World Literature argue that pedagogical anthologies of World Literature actually aim to resist the limitations of (usually monolingual) national canons (Damrosch “Comparative Literature/World Literature”), that, moreover, World Literature is a method of reading and perspective, not a sum of works or a flat picture of a world landscape (Hillis Miller; Kadir 2012)), and that World Literature can actually be used to destabilise the centre in which the ‘fixed foot of the compass’ is set (D’haen 2012b; Kadir 2012). To expand in range, to expand in time, to focus on reciprocal transactions, and to work on decentring primary assumptions: such visions, wide-ranging as they are, hardly seem to aim at imperialist hegemony.
In a conversation with Gayatri Spivak, David Damrosch specifies three potential problems of World Literature in aspiring to transcend the national-bordered matrix: “The three intertwined problems are that the study of world literature can very readily become culturally deracinated, philologically bankrupt, and ideologically complicit with the worst tendencies of global capitalism”. He adds, wryly, “Other than that, we’re in good shape” (“Comparative Literature/ World Literature” 456). On the other hand, the intertwined dangers of Postcolonial theory (although not by its skilled practitioners) around the world has been to polarise European/non-European as essentially opposite, to dwindle into nostalgic constructions of the ‘past’ in the face of the disappointments of the present, and to cater to the consumption of the Western, particularly North American, academy –dangers which point to precisely the inability to overcome the first/third world dependency matrix (D’haen (2012a); Dirlik; Gikandi). One might add, ‘Other than that, we’re in good shape’.
To read resistance contrapuntally is to note that it occurs together with, in the same cultural domain as, and often with the same tools as dominance. Tracing works and writers as they move outside of their local communities stresses that borders –political, disciplinary, epistemological– are permeable. Tracing the refraction of works inside a particular urban ‘centre’ may produce a surfeit of accounts of the same old ‘world metropolises’, and yet this dreaded influx has not happened, and the accounts that have appeared (see, for example, Casanova), besides being valuable for what they did discuss quickly elicited critique for what they did not (Prendergast 2001; Kadir 2011178-80; Damrosch 2003 27). Examining texts ‘glocally’ by focusing on the global cultural convergences within a text problematises and resists the ‘purist’ ethnic ideal in national cultures, implicit even in those states which have bravely attempted to represent their multicultural populations.
In this study, resistance to ‘national chauvinism’ refers to the protagonists’ refutation of the purist ideal that still lies at the heart of definitions of political (particularly national) identities, whether ethnic, linguistic, religious, or gendered. ‘Resistance literature’ in Barbara Harlow’s early formulation (1987) is defined as literature that considers at its crux the struggle for national liberation and independence on the part of colonised peoples in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and which participates in these struggles by demanding recognition of its unique literary position and by questioning or subverting the creative and academic norms and canons in the West. Departing from the work of the likes of Fanon, Cabral, Kanafani and Césaire, Harlow’s book cannot even by today’s ‘global’ standards be described as simply ‘national’ in scope, particularly as she intentionally chooses material –prison memoirs, poetry, short stories– “largely excluded or ignored…in traditional departments of literature organized according to ‘national’ criteria…[and] even in comparative literature” (xvi). Her geographical scope too is large, comparing as it does writers across Central America, Africa and the Levant.
Resistance beyond or after national liberation struggles12 might refer to a cultural engagement with what Appadurai calls “predatory identities”: “large-scale group identities that seem to require –as a rigid requirement of their mobilization and force– the restriction, degradation or outright elimination of other identities, usually numerically, culturally and constitutionally ‘minor’ ones” (“The Grounds of the Nation-State” 133). Appadurai focuses on how these predatory identities are worked out through the form of the modern state in relation to territory (thus becoming ‘predatory nationalisms’) and ultimately result in violence: “From the United States to Papua New Guinea, some plausible answer has had to be supplied to answer the question: what magic halo distinguishes this group of modern citizens from the next one? Pressures to cleanse internally and expand imperially are frequently exercises in supplying answers to this question” (134).13 In their different contexts, Gilroy refers to this as the ‘racial purity’ espoused by black nationalism, Said as ‘nativism’-turned-millenarian “if the movement has any sort of mass base, or…small-scale private craziness” if it does not (“Yeats and Decolonization” 82). The repetition of exclusivist and exceptional claims (which encourage the rise of ‘predatory identities’) put forth by national selfhood, carried by the sometimes-embittered political-economic intertwinement (in its diverse forms) of today’s ‘global village’, ensures that, simply put, what goes on in one part of the world is either everyone’s problem ‘if it turns millenarian’, or may eventually be everyone’s problem, even if for now it is still some ‘small-scale private craziness’. A politically-sensitive (and not necessarily ‘correct’) World Literature approach that extends the best of Postcolonial theory is one that might focus on extending the notion of resistance to predatory identities.
The texts dealt with in this study might all be termed as ‘postcolonial’ since they engage with national liberation struggles either overtly, as is the case of Milan Kundera, Waguih Ghali, Leila Ahmed and Tsitsi Dangarembga, or covertly, as is the case of Amitav Ghosh. More importantly, however, they belong to World Literature, resisting as they do many levels of oppression of liberty whether during national struggles of liberation or post-independence, both by the coloniser and by the colonised. The works manifestly resist the facile polarisation of people into victims and victimisers. In their cultural transactions and modes of circulation, the works can be seen to “[operate] in a multi-dimensional space, in relationship to four frames of reference: the global, the regional, the national, and the individual…[with all four frames], moreover, continually shift[ing] over time, and so the temporal dimension serves as a fifth frame within which world literature is continually formed and reformed” (Damrosch “Frames for World Literature” 496).
Thus, Waguih Ghali resists both British imperialism and Nasserite Arab-Egyptianism; Milan Kundera resists Sovietisation but also the pitfalls of post-1960s Czechoslovakian nationalism; Leila Ahmed and Tsitsi Dangarembga resist static identitarian positions as gendered subjects of colonial and postcolonial regimes; while Amitav Ghosh resists a world-knowledge divided and segmented into national canons and periods by posing a ‘globalised’ literary corpus and history that reaches from the twelfth century to the present. Considering the texts in their political contexts makes it important to discuss where the protagonists locate themselves as members of the nation, that is, as nationalists, but also as the state’s first critics. Such protagonists resist discourses that espouse blind nationalism, national exceptionalism or ethnic purity at the same time as they assert the importance of the state’s sovereignty. As these protagonist-nationalists argue that a nation-state is defined in relation to similar states and as a member of a world collective, reading the texts requires locating the nation-states referred to within larger frames of international politics and culture.
An attempt has been made to select texts coming from different parts of the world, all of which have circulated and been translated and adapted outside of their local communities, and some of which are considered representative of their ‘genres’. They have also been to various degrees considered as ‘classics’, ‘masterpieces’ and ‘windows on the world’ (Damrosch What is World Literature? 1-35). All of them engage critically with pivotal questions of World Literature and world culture: shared histories and the meaning and onset of modernity, the impact of translation and adaptation on reception, the migration of people and their works, and the nature and value of literature whether as an academic practice or creative pursuit.14
Although emphasis has been given to history in parts of the ‘Middle’ East and Africa, with Egypt appearing in the texts as theme, regional centre and cultural crossroads, the discussion aims primarily to read these geographically-rooted texts in order to show how they travelled to other parts of the world; to compare and link the texts with other creative works outside of their ‘home’ cultures; and to dwell on the cultural links between the Middle East and other cultures. Thus, the works of Ghali, Ahmed, and Ghosh all allude to Egypt and Egyptian literature in one way or another. Yet Ghali’s novel is compared to Milan Kundera’s to shed light on the political situation of Czechoslovakia and the wider literary history of Europe. Ahmed’s memoir is compared to Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel to discuss the formative influences of nature, gender, race and education in the Rhodesian struggle for national liberation. Ghosh’s twentieth-century anthropological travelogue on Egypt is used as a critical organising tool to approach mediaeval and early modern travel texts written in or translated into Arabic from Baghdad, Sicily, Persia, and Andalusia. Additional effort has been made to show how the discussion may be taken further by alluding to other creative works published in or on different places, sometimes in the main discussion, but more often through endnotes. The emphasis on the Middle East and Africa is only meant to emphasise the locations of these regions in the world.
The main five works dealt with also share to varying degrees a preoccupation with individual formation as the subject of national (and, because the nation exists in the world, therefore worldly) conditioning. The preoccupation with the fantastically-fluid German term Bildung, a term that has crossed international borders but has often retained its original language, appears in the novels in the brooding, restless relation posited between the experiences of the protagonists and the changing nation-states; it also seems integral to the discussions of resisting ‘predatory identities’ in this study particularly in light of the tensions inherent in World Literature theory between world literature being simultaneously a mode of aesthetic appreciation, pedagogy and ethical engagement. The connection between Bildung and nation-formation was made clear from early on both in Germany and elsewhere, with its namesake narrative of individual freedom and self-actualisation, the Bildungsroman, appearing reflective of the actualisation of the political community (the nation) and from there, the universal well-being of, well, Being. Bildung is supposed to narrate “the acculturation of a self –the integration of a particular ‘I’ into the general subjectivity of a community, and thus, finally, into the universal subjectivity of humanity” (Redfield 38; qtd. in Vermeulen and de Graef 249). In most of these works too, Bildung, in its own uneasy location between a form of free self-actualisation on the one hand, and a form of imposed institutionalised education (or the systems of education taking place under the aegis of the free state) on the other, takes on added significance for the not-so-free protagonists in a not-so-free colonised state and who themselves are often the products of primarily Western systems of education. These protagonists therefore, often find themselves having to negotiate their self-actualisation within a system of education that was politically designed precisely to limit the political self-actualisation of people ‘like’ themselves, that is, the colonised, often non-white, subjects. As all the works chosen are autobiographical to various degrees, they also touch implicitly upon the contested relation between autobiography or life-narration and the Bildungsroman.
Chapter 1 will compare the vision of the ‘international’ community in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) and Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club (1964). By considering the romances of the two novels as tropes for individual, societal and national assimilation, this chapter will examine how the main protagonist in each novel reacts to the particular political stands taken by peers, political parties and governments.
Love experiences are a recurrent motif in narratives concerned with formation. In Bildungsromane love affairs signal sexual autonomy that is integral to the functioning, development, maturity and all-rounded heterosexual well-being of the usually male protagonists. Love constitutes one or more necessary hurdles in the acculturation process, and relates directly to the protagonists’ urban, modern and national conditioning. Successful love affairs have often pointed to the protagonist’s ‘moulding’ along correct lines and his eventual ability to function as a responsible citizen who will, along with and because of a suitable partner or spouse, also be the progenitor of future suitable citizens. By the same token, failed love affairs have often signified that the individual is at odds with the norms of society and is therefore flirting with disaster, a state which, again depending on the zeitgeist, could point out the individual’s naiveté (give him time and experience and he will toe the line), his eternal alienation, or his inability to adapt to societal values because these values themselves need rethinking (see Moretti 1987; Buckley; Beddoes; Swales). In the past few decades, in postcolonial novels of formation, love stories have often been used as metaphors for national conditioning, whether as a conscious departure from the Bildungsroman or as an extension of the organic (and convenient) national ideal of the family being a nation writ small (see Summers; Sainsbury).
Set against the Prague Spring and the Suez Crisis, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Beer in the Snooker Club respectively posit the romances as ways to resist emerging popular nationalist rhetoric. The novels transcend these parochial nationalist imaginings and offer alternative visions of national identities: deeper visions, by personalising the political discourse to an individual’s personal lived experience of the nation, and more comprehensive, and implicitly greater, ones, by locating the nation in a wider ‘world’, specifically in relation to international players. Ghali resists Nasser’s anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist Arabism with an image of individual cosmopolitanism that combines or tries to combine the elite ‘good life’ with social justice, and Kundera resists Czechoslovakian nationalism and Sovietism by (re)locating Bohemia within a lost, Edenic pan-European heritage. These counter-national imaginaries suggest that any integral understanding of the political identities of the Czech Republic and Egypt necessitates locating these countries as essentially part of the world. More specifically, it requires defining what larger political Selves these nations are affiliated to and what political Others they are not. This transnational approach to nation-imagining may be described as ‘supra-national’ in Kundera’s case and ‘cross-national’ in Ghali’s.
Chapter 2 will look at the use of landscape in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988) and Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage: A Woman’s Journey from Cairo to America (1999) to explore the ‘subnational and transnational’, ‘universal and specific’ points of dialogue in the gendered journeys of acculturation and conditioning. Touching on the intersections of race, gender, nation and religion, the chapter will compare how the protagonists address local issues by appealing to a shared ethical or moral world of gender, or what may be called a ‘global nation’. Narrating stories of women’s lives in women’s spaces, the protagonists move towards education, independence and social status, but also to the world of the imagination, and they come to understand that to be worldly means to be able to empathise with the local and the global.
Going, as Damrosch puts it, ‘glocal’15 the women protagonists explore individual formation in light of gender issues and within a specific national context. They thus transcend the nation to a more global ‘solidarity’ of women by qualifying (rather than effacing) the political question of the texts from one of national citizenship (what does it mean to be Zimbabwean, Egyptian or English) into one of gender codified by national and postcolonial paradigms (what does it mean for the narrator to be a woman of the world at a specific time in Zimbabwe, Egypt, England and the US?). Moving in smaller concentric circles from the globe to the individual the chapter will examine how the protagonists appropriate and describe landscapes to reflect the formation of their identity and resistance. The argument thus proceeds from natural landscapes being designated as natural resources, then national territory, before narrowing down to smaller constructed, boundaried landscapes, such as ornamental private gardens, the home and finally the bedroom.
Chapter 3 will examine the way culture is essentially reinvigorated and produced by crossing borders, geographically and temporally. It will discuss how Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land (1992) sheds light on, stands in dialogue with and offers an organisational framework to studying key travel writing in Arabic produced in the 10th-13th century Afroeurasian world by the region’s (s’) various inhabitants. The chapter presents some of the historical writings which Ghosh cites in Antique Land and in his essay on the same subject in Subaltern Studies, and examines the writingsin light of Ghosh’s call for a united world culture and a resistant, also subaltern historiography. As an example of transnational, ‘intermediate’ relations working beyond political borders (those of the ‘nation-state’ in the present, and of the pre-modern ‘town centres’ of the past) this mode of imaginary community might be called the ‘everyday nation’, not the exceptional one, but the (arguably large) numbers of undocumented real people who have not necessarily spoken for the ‘nation’. Moving back and forth across centuries through the organising lens of Ghosh’s work, the chapter describes how travel writing circulated in the flourishing town centres of the region over centuries to construct a popular read/recited 'canon' of belles-lettres for a ‘sub-elite’ common reader. The chapter discusses how the travellers helped construct the ecumenical concept of 'dār al-islām' (abode of Islam) for their multi-lingual and multi-religious readers, and, in equal measure, how the travellers by their free mobility and narration, as well as their incentives to travel and write, actually complicated the idea of a homogenous, monolithic ‘abode of Islam’. This idea of a homogeneous ‘Islamic world’ often used in political and academic discourse to denote one large uniform region is arguably a fallacy that besets common discussions of Arabic literature and feeds popular Islamism today.
Finally, the conclusion will summarise some of the previous analysis but will also look forward to future routes for critical thought. It will attempt to rise to the challenge pointed out in this introduction: the need to delve into the theoretical work of Easterners who have had, precisely because of colonial history, all the incentives ‘in the world’ to compare and juxtapose cultures. Focusing on an article published in English by Taha Hussein, the ‘Dean of Arabic Letters’, but also alluding to his prolific work in Arabic and French, the final chapter will introduce Hussein’s vision of World Literature as an international mode of cultural exchange and production, and a standard for national allegiance. Hussein's discussion of World Literature will also be used to shed light on the five modern works, for they all stand at a poised point of what Hussein calls 'equilibrium': between ancient heritage and modernity, past achievements and future aspirations, individual creativity and collective tradition, and national rootedness and international attachment.