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«The Ethics of Representation in the Fiction of Amitav Ghosh The Ethics of Representation in the Fiction of Amitav Ghosh by Tuomas Huttunen Anglicana ...»

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The Ethics of Representation in the Fiction

of Amitav Ghosh

The Ethics of Representation in the Fiction

of Amitav Ghosh

by Tuomas Huttunen

Anglicana Turkuensia No 30

University of Turku

Turku, Finland

The Ethics of Representation in the Fiction of Amitav Ghosh

by Tuomas Huttunen

Anglicana Turkuensia

ISSN 1236-4754

(continuing from Publications of the Department of English,

University of Turku, ISSN 0781-707X)

No 30

University of Turku

Turku, Finland

ISBN 978-951-29-4638-9 (Print) ISBN 978-951-29-4639-6 (PDF) Copyright © the author Layout by the author Typeset in 11pt Book Antiqua Printed by Painosalama Oy, Turku


Acknowledgements iii Permissions vi I. Introduction 1 II. The Novels 15 II.1. The Circle of Reason 16

II.1.1. The end of origins:

Ghosh‘s history of the present 20 II.2. The Shadow Lines 24 II.2.1. 'Knowledges' of London

-- narrating space 27 II.3. In an Antique Land 40 II.3.1. Modernism, postmodernism and the subject in history 42 II.4. The Calcutta Chromosome 51 II.4.1. Parallel realities and social spaces 55 II.5. The Glass Palace 62 II.5.1. Self-alienation and totalitarianism – colonial and totalitarian discourses 65 II.6. The Hungry Tide 72

II.6.1. Human alienation from nature:

intertextual links 77 II.7. Other Writing by Amitav Ghosh 82 III. Contexts and Themes 87 III.1. Theoretical and methodological starting points 88 III.1.1. Ethical study of literature – a sketch towards a discipline 93 III.1.2. Ethics, language and the writing of Amitav Ghosh 108 ii III.2. Modernism, postmodernism and the idea of India 122 III.3. National and communal struggle – Representation of Violence 136 III.4. Narration and silence 148 IV. The Articles 165 IV.1. Amitav Ghosh‘s The Circle of Reason – Dismantling the Idea of Purity 167

IV.2. The Shadow Lines:

the World of Experien

–  –  –

Acknowledgements ―Something for you here,‖ said my supervisor-to-be, Professor John Skinner, twelve years ago when handing me his copy of The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh. I was at the time completing my advanced studies in the Department of English at the University of Turku and had visited him shortly before to ask if he had any ideas for my Pro Gradu thesis. I am still in the department of English at the University of Turku. And I am still mulling over novels by Amitav Ghosh. John did not get to see how prolonged a process he had helped to set in motion. Nevertheless, I am grateful to him for launching me into this orbit and for staying as my satellite for eight years. To anyone inclined towards reading this volume, I speak John‘s ominous words: Something for you here...

The novels of Ghosh have followed me through a Pro Gradu thesis, a Licentiate thesis, periods as assistant and lecturer, and terms as a researcher in two Academy of Finland projects.

They have accompanied me to a stint as a visiting researcher in the University of Aarhus, Denmark. They have also seen me through one marriage and witnessed the miraculous appearance of my two children. And now, finally, they have seen me squeeze them into a Doctoral thesis.

I am indebted to my opponent, Professor Jopi Nyman from the University of Eastern Finland, for a thorough reading of my dissertion and for pointing out certain blind spots and structural weaknesses in the text. I am also thankful to Professor Nicholas Royle from the University of West Sussex for applying his expertise to my work. And I would like to express my gratitude to Colette Gattoni from the Centre for Language and Communication at the Åbo Akademi University for polishing up my language and style.

I have several institutions and numerous people to thank for all these strange years of sound and fury. The monetary aspect of my work has been greatly enhanced by the Academy of Finland in the forms of a personal grant and research fellowships in projects funded by it. I have been granted scholarships by the Turku University Foundation and the Kone Foundation, for iv which I am deeply grateful. My work has also been supported by Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse and the Turku University Foundation in the form of travel grants.

While the first project I was involved in (Fragments of the Past: History, Fiction and Identity in the New English Literatures, 2004-2007) was led by John, the second one, the one that enabled the completion of this dissertation (Silence as Voice: Reempowering the Disempowered in Contemporary English Literatures, 2008-2011) is led by Lydia Kokkola, who became my supervisor in 2007. I owe a great deal to her flexible mind and to her astounding ability to discern traces of reason amidst nearly incomprehensible babble.

For all this time, I have been affiliated with the Department of English in the University of Turku, which has also employed me for several periods over the years. I would like to express my gratitude to Risto Hiltunen, who has supported me and my work in the department in numerous ways during the years. I am also grateful to Joel Kuortti, who was the opponent in my Licentiate defence in 2001, and whom I have come across several times over the years in conferences and seminars both in Finland and abroad. And I was honoured to make the acquaintance of the eminent Ghosh scholar and novelist Tabish Khair, who invited me to stay as a visiting researcher in the English department at the University of Aarhus in 2004.

My awareness of the theoretical, philosophical and methodological aspects of the study of literature took a gigantic leap forward during the period I was a student in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Turku. I am deeply grateful to Liisa Steinby, Pirjo Ahokas and Marja-Leena Hakkarainen for steering me during those years: I was quite malleable at the time, and they managed to implant a small embryo of a researcher beneath my skin. I would also like to thank Kaisa Ilmonen for invaluable help in conference organizing and book editing.

I have had the joy of going through two Academy projects and numerous conference trips with Janne Korkka, whose wistful vision of future I have proven to be correct: the pain will be exquisite! I have also worked in two projects as well as organized a conference and co-edited a book with Elina Valovirta, whose v many contributions to common enterprises I value. My other project associates over the years have been Raita Merivirta and Elina Siltanen. No worries; you‘ll be putting together your acknowledgements in no time.

Whether working in the department or in the research unit maintained by it, I have continuously had stimulating people around me. Keith Battarbee has always been there with his immense knowledge of things pertaining to university administration, as well as to teaching and studying in the department. Eleven years ago I witnessed the defences of SannaKaisa Tanskanen and Matti Peikola filled with awe, and I still look up to them in admiration. Janne Skaffari and Pekka Lintunen have always been a solid part of my working environment although, or perhaps precisely because, our interaction has mainly centred on the coffee spaces in either the department or the research unit. Ira Hansen has kindly come to my aid in numerous practical problems that turned out not to be problems. I am also thankful to my more experienced collegues, Professor Emerita Marita Gustafsson and Lecturer Ellen Valle, who have moved on to enjoy their well earned retirements.

Family relations play a significant role in all areas of life. In the context of academic endeavours, which are plagued by uncertainty and money applications and the bliss of academic freedom, family sometimes has to come up with all kinds of irregularities. In this vein, thanks are due to my ex-wife Sanna for her patience when the going was rough. And I am immensely grateful to my parents, who have unselfishly kept track of my gropings through life, both academic and otherwise. My children, Unna and Eemu, although not yet cognizant of dissertations or other matters academic, provide me both with immediate joy and a horizon to look at.

And Annu, thank you for all your realities. I would not have gotten this far without them.

–  –  –

Permissions Amitav Ghosh has kindly given me permission to publish excerpts from his novels and other works. The permission was granted by private communication on 31 March 2011.

My quoting of Ghosh has also been officially approved by his agent, Matt Spindler from The Karpfinger Agency, on 6 April 2011.

Permissions to re-publish the six articles in this dissertation have

been granted via e-mail by the copyright holders as follows:

Amitav Ghosh‘s The Circle of Reason – dismantling the idea of purity. The Nordic Journal of English Studies.

– by the Assistant Editor of NJES, Chloé Avril, on 3 April 2011 The Shadow Lines: The world of experience and the language of meaning. In Prasad, Murari (ed). Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines: A Critical Companion. New Delhi: Pencraft International, 208-224.

- by the Editor, Murari Prasad, on 23 March 2011 Connections beyond partitions - In an Antique Land of Amitav Ghosh. The Atlantic Literary Review 4:3. 87-107.

- by Mr Harjeet Singh of Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, on 30 March 2011

–  –  –

The ethics of representation in The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh. In Dwivedi, O. P. & Joel Kuortti (eds). Changing Nations/Changing Words: The Concept of Nation in the Transnational Era. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.

- by the Co-Editor, Joel Kuortti, on 11 May 2011 Language and ethics in The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh. In Sankaran, Chitra (ed). History, Narrative, Testimony: Essays on Amitav Ghosh's Fictional Narratives. New York: SUNY Press.

- by the Senior Acquisitions Editor of the State University of New York Press, Nancy Ellegate, on 25 March 2011

I. Introduction

The sensitivity of Amitav Ghosh towards issues of political importance, as well as of cultural significance, is apparent among other things in his reaction to the information that his fifth novel, The Glass Palace (2000), had been nominated for the 2001 Commonwealth Writers‘ Prize. This had happened without his knowledge, and Ghosh promptly withdrew the novel from the competition on the grounds that it linked an area of contemporary writing to realities of ―a disputed aspect of the past‖ instead of the realities of the present day (Ghosh 2002a, 35).

Further, he saw that ‗the Commonwealth‘ was not an appropriate attribute for a cultural and literary group that included many other languages and realities beside those represented by the English language. To clarify this point, he has compared ‗the Commonwealth‘ to another, on the face of it rather hilarious,

attribute of epistemic violence, which is no longer in use:

During the Second World War, the Japanese called their empire in Southeast Asia - after this incredibly damaging and violent campaign in Southeast Asia - they called this entire region ‗The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere‘, as I‘m sure you‘re aware. Now, if someone came to me and said would you accept ‗The Greater East Asian CoProsperity Sphere Prize‘ would I accept? Of course I wouldn‘t! Why should I accept something, which is just a euphemism for some incredible violence that was done to the world that is now seeking to whitewash itself? (Ghosh in Sankaran 2005) Ghosh‘s withdrawal from the competition for the Commonwealth prize was widely noticed. As the attention accumulated, Ghosh ended up contacting many of the writers that had previously won the prize, assuring them that he had been making a philosophical point worth discussion, not trying to criticise them for accepting the prize.

As John C. Hawley observes in his monograph on Ghosh (2005), and as I have pointed out in the context of the representation of violence in the writing of Ghosh (Huttunen 2008a & section III.3. of this dissertation), Ghosh seems to be intent on moving his readers beyond the ―aesthetic of indifference‖ in his narrative representations. One of the reasons why he is considered such an important writer is the fact that his narratives offer a sensitive and multifaceted view on the contemporary problems of the worlds he writes about. When asked to what extent his background as a historian, journalist and an anthropologist has affected his work and whether his novels

are entirely a work of fiction, he answered as follows:

For me, the value of the novel, as a form, is that it is able to incorporate elements of every aspect of life - history, natural history, rhetoric, politics, beliefs, religion, family, love, sexuality. As I see it, the novel is a meta-form that transcends the boundaries that circumscribe other kinds of writing, rendering meaningless the usual workaday distinctions between historian, journalist, anthropologist, etc. (Ghosh in Caswell 2004).

This highlights one of the most characteristic features of his writing: its generic heterogeneity, or discursive inventiveness, which enables him to retain sensitivity to various kinds of discourses, voices and agents, while narrating into existence unforeseen connections between them.

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956. He is the son of a diplomat and former Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian army and a housewife. As a consequence of his father changing postings, he grew up in East Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and India.

His family originates from eastern Bengal and migrated to Calcutta before the Partition in 1947. Ghosh went to the Doon School in Dehra Dun and received a BA in History from St.

Stephen‘s College, Delhi University in 1976. In 1978 he received an MA in Sociology from Delhi University. His doctorate, completed in 1982 at Oxford University, is in Social Anthropology. As part of his degree, he went to Tunisia to learn Arabic in 1979 and, in 1980, he conducted field work in Egypt for his doctorate. After completing his doctorate, Ghosh worked as a journalist for The Indian Express in Delhi. Since then, he has acted as visiting fellow and professor in several universities around the world, while creating a bulk of work, including seven major novels and a large amount of journalism and cultural-political commentary in the form of articles and essays.

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