Transnational Paradoxes and Texts

by Krishnan Unni P.

The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationlism by Nyla Ali Khan, London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

Transnationalism is an idea that encompasses various discursive and cultural formations of nation’s ideologies, culural practices and modes of resistance. Literature, viewed in this context, becomes an accurate tool of expressing the agonies, sentiments and sensitive issues that often lurk within the nations. Writers who have a wide panorama of incorporating into their works issues that cross beyond the borders are global writers despite their merits and demerits. Nation becomes the foremost platform for these writers to expand and shrink, to extend and substitute because it is a different aspect of nationalism that they wish to highlight. Nyla Ali Khan’s The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism makes an attempt to study the different types of nationalisms and deviant discourses connected to them in the writings of V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitava Ghosh and Anita Desai.

Outlined in five chapters, the conept of nation and nationalism Ali Khan discusses is mediated through a number of studies of the ‘subject’ – the subject being transmuted and transfigured. Drawing upon a number of postcolonial and diasporic theorieticians, Ali Khan makes it clear that the transnational subject is a subject of evolution. However, there is a clear demarcation between the postcolonial subject formation and transnational subject. The postcolonial subject is the one upon which innumerable borders of history are laid, whereas the transnational subject tends to situate or rather orient iteself to the norms of identity construction. This particular aspect is not well charted out in the first chapter of the text. In her examination of Naipaul’s Among the Believers , she points out that “Naipaul’s critical stance embodies the politics of Western secularism with which he identifies”. The assumption is very true with respect to several writings of Naipaul. At the same time, what needs to be noticed is the fact that Naipaul’s idea of making people mimic the nation. The concept of mimickery emamplifed by Homi K. Bhaba is worth remembering in this context. Naipaul’s characters are the mimicking ones and hence they engage in a transnational context comprising the East and the West. But the Western secualarism as identified by the author needs some more clarification in the line of the emerging global capitalism and issues of the Third World.

The study of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is particularly important in the context of the Islamic warfares and the attack of imperialist countires upon several Islamic countires. Viewed and studied in many ways by several theoreticians, including Aijaz Ahmad, The Satanic Verses opens up a number of discourses including the construction of the text as such. When Ali Khan states that this novel “delineates the migrant experience as regenerative and as capable of accomplishing a sense of arrival”, what resonates is the idea of the nationa with blurred boundraies. This is a postcolonial stance of the definition of a nation. But what needs to be remembered here are the attempts to reconstitute boundaries (keeping in mind the Babri Masjid demolition and the historical conjectures that Ali Khan often hinges upon) in a notion of dissimilarities and political turmoils.

Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines is studied to highlight the idea of the citizenship. Ghosh’s various strategies are well studied and meticulously the the argument of the citizenship is provided by the author. The ‘self-conscious political philoshopy’ of Ghosh’s citizenship is looked at from a critique of the Western postcolonial agenda by Ali Khan. As Ghosh’s sense of unversalism is predicated upon an outright rejection of ‘meta-identity of nationalism’ the concept of the nation itself is redefined in the many manipulative imaginations of his character Tridib in the novel.

Anita Desai’s In Custody is examind from the angle of the feminist trends in the novel concerned with the Third World. However, the Indian womanhood created by Desai requires some critiquing at this juncture. The agenda of the nationlist writers onwomen is not the one Desai has. The historical conjectures of the novelist also need to be carefully looked at from the evolving communal tensions and the much laid beit of the native female’s urge to attain motherhood. Given this diametrically opposite positions, In Custody appears to be more of an identity construction issues within a country of language divisions.

Nyla Ali Khan’s brave attemp to look at the texts cited deserves a special mention because of her constant impinging of the present-day history, such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid and Gujarat riots of 2002. Several scholars have dwelt with the same issues have seldom taken any recourse to the contemporary political problems. This book perhaps would have been more powerful if a philosophical dimension of the ‘subject’ was proided. Similarly, the future of transnationalism and the possible changes in the construction of the subject are not properly dealt by the author. Would transnational subject remain always the same, volatile and looking for fluctuations among the writers? The question needs more ponderings.

November 19, 2007

Krishnan Unni P. is a senior lecturer in English at Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi. He has edited Gabriel Garcia marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. His poems, stories and articles have appeared both in English and Malayalam in various national and international journals, magazines and newspapers. His areas of interests are Third World films and literatures, changing patterns of gender and sexual dissidence, the resisting modes in football and popular cultures.