Storytelling, Memories and Identity Constructions

Annual Humanities Conference

Puebla - Mexico City: 4 - 9 November 2011

Cultural History  

Cultural Studies  

Queer Studies  



(Re-)Discovering the Past – (Mis-)Understanding the Present? The Concept of Identity in Recent Indian English Fiction   

Christoph  Senft

“Englobe –  Enlightenment  and  Global  History“

University  of  Coimbra,  

University  of  Potsdam Marie-Curie


In my paper I would like to present some aspects of my dissertation project with the working title “Towards Transmodern Literary Historiography – Local Past and Global Designs in Recent Indian English Fiction”. In this project I have a closer look at some examples of very recent Indian English fiction that I regard as (counter-) visions and narratives of global order.   

The primary sources I discuss are textual representations of local histories and global designs and (un-)consciously reflect upon the experiences of globalisation/globality in past and present – experiences that cannot be grasped  by clear-cut concepts of nationality, philosophy, religion, culture, society, time or space. Indian Novels in English, using both ‘colonial’ and ‘regional’  languages and symbols, being part of a well-oiled cultural industry and having a wide ‘Western’ readership, are harmonious images of alleged universality and, at  the same time, transmodern counter-(hi)stories of both Indian and global reality.   

One of the dominating features of the novels obviously is identity construction in transcultural settings and it is in a double bind. One the one hand, it is  described and represented in various facets on the textual level. On the other  hand, it seems to be implemented and lived by the authors writing  these  texts:  born  in  India,  living  somewhere  between  Europe/the  USA  and  their  country  of  origin  and  sharing  some  universal  values.  But  following a  transmodern  approach  as  it  is  put  forward  by  Mignolo  and  other  scholars  of  postcolonial  and  subaltern  studies,  we  have  to  ask  ourselves  in  how  far  the  category  of  identity  has  been  an  implementation  of  Western  knowledge  and  power  schemes.  

  To a  certain  degree  identity  certainly  is  the  reapplication  of a  category  developed  in  the  course  of  encounters  with  cultures  and  cultural  milieus  in  Europe  ‘lacking’  in  modernity  that  have created a  particular  understanding  of a  unified  world  that  has  to  be  attained.  Identity  is  thus  at  least  the  result  of a  complex  process  of  interrelated  perceptions  and  rationalisations  which  are  still  at  work,  for  example  in  various  cultural  practices  like  the  one  of  English  fiction  produced  by  Indian  authors.  These  perceptions  and rationalisations  have  to  be  interpreted  in  order  to  uncover  existing  hierarchies  of  conceptualisation.  As  an  example I  would  like  to  discuss  two  texts  that  exemplify  the  ideas  and  problems  re- garding  the  concept  of  identity:  Jhumpa  Lahiri’s  The  Namesake  (2003 )  and  Kiran  Na- garkar’s  God’s  Little  Soldier  (2006).  Critically  reflecting  upon  these  texts  might  provide  interesting  insights  into  the  conceptualisations  of  identity,  memory  and  narration  as  gener- ally  discussed  at  the  conference  and  in  particular  regarding  the  problems  around  diaspora  in  the  former  and  religious  fundamentalism  in  the  latter  novel.   



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