«The Ethics of Representation in the Fiction of Amitav Ghosh The Ethics of Representation in the Fiction of Amitav Ghosh by Tuomas Huttunen Anglicana ...»
Radhakrishan has examined these concerns as they appear in relation to the concepts of imagination and space in Ghosh‘s second novel, The Shadow Lines (1988). These same concerns are relevant in the context of all Ghosh‘s novels, and his writing in general. Space in Ghosh‘s narratives is manifested as a manyfaceted problematic that brings together time, place (imaginary and real dimensions), location (whether geographical or discursive) and identity (both personal and national/communal/collective). Radhakrishnan has come up with several insights that novels by Ghosh offer concerning this multi-dimensional collective (Radhakrishnan 2003, 27-28). Below I have paraphrased those insights that concentrate on the imagining of spaces and realities as a subversive and interconnecting act (See section II.2.1. for more extensive
treatment of space in Ghosh‘s narration):
- Spaces have to be imagined in order for them to become real
- The process of imagining spaces brings to the fore both the need for fixed spaces and their limitations.
- The transcending of these fixed spaces is globally motivated and locally executed.
- Understanding the reality of any specific space does not require ‗inside‘ information: spaces are ―reciprocally ekstatic/exotopic‖ (2003, 27).
- Through global empathy and ‗precise imagination‘ we can understand and experience realities other than our own.
- The imagining of the other‘s reality based on violence and exoticism has to be distinguished from a dialogic imagination open to reciprocal and equal transcendence.
In Radhakrishnan‘s view, these basic insights involving the use of a certain kind of ethical imagination in the envisioning of interhuman and interdiscursive relationships amount to a newness in and of the imagination. If only the world could be imagined that way! – new and emergent perceptions of nearness and distance; longdenied and repressed affirmations of solidarities and fellowheartedness in transgression of dominant relationships and axes of power; new and emergent identifications and recognitions in profound alienation from canonicaldominant mystifications and fixations of identity. (2003, viii) The above themes inform my own examination of Ghosh‘s narratives to varying extents. What is expressed in packed language by Radhakrishnan above, shall unfold during the course of this dissertation as characteristic of Ghosh‘s ethically aware narrative representation, in which precise imagination has an essential role.
Another examination of Ghosh‘s The Shadow Lines highlighting the use of precise imagination comes from Shameem Black (2006). She connects the use of imagination with a certain kind of cosmopolitanism, understanding the latter as ―the imaginative and ethical process of opening the self to the strangeness of an expanding world‖ (45). This particular brand of imaginative and ethical cosmopolitanism ―offers a specific way of inhabiting the transnational and transcultural currents of globalization‖ (45). Black outlines ―the wonderful paradox of imagining precisely‖ in Ghosh as a special mode of
Conceptualizing others requires the leap beyond positivism that imagination connotes, but to offer more than a selfserving fantasy of cultural difference, this practise of imagination demands a respect for the specificity and uniqueness of other lives. (2006, 54) Black foregrounds this ―rooted cosmopolitanism‖ as a way of simultaneously inhabiting the world and the home, the self and the other. This way of being in the contemporary world of globalization would be based on ―the desire to actively imagine rather than passively accept one‘s world‖ (2006, 50).
As can be deduced from the above, the concept of imagination has been given a central role as the vehicle for the ethical transcending of monolithic discursive constructions in the new millennium. This is the case especially within the theoretical moorings of what has come to be referred to as the ‗ethical turn‘ in literary studies since the late 1990s (see section III.1.1. for a detailed charting of this phenomenon). In addition to insights provided by Radhakrishnan and Black, Ghosh‘s adaptation of imagination also resonates with Drucilla Cornell‘s idea of transcendental imagination. Cornell insists that ethics is inseparable from ―the full disruptive power of imagination‖ (1992, 35). For Cornell, as for Ghosh, I argue, imagination does not signify a moral power of ‗deep comprehension‘ of what is already there as it does when understood through humanism.
Rather, imagination represents the power to transcend what is given and to admit and designate the possible. Cornell further sees imagination as enabling ―redemptive perspectives‖ which ―displace and estrange the world‖ and make us ―aware that we are in exile‖ (16). In the core of the dissertation, I shall be concentrating on Ghosh‘s narrative representation of the ethical relationship between the self and the other precisely as the displacing and estranging of the familiar and the expected. Here the other is conceived not only as the other human being, but also as another time/space, discourse, narrative technique, knowledge production strategy or literary genre. Nature and animals also function as the others of human beings in Ghosh‘s novels.
The narratives by Ghosh are primarily about creating connections between various others without depriving any participant of their authentic voice and agency. Ghosh‘s technique is to present these others (be they individuals, communities or discourses) in a relationship and in contact with one another, while retaining their individual characteristics. The motifs Ghosh uses to explicate and symbolize the nature of these narrative relationships include precise imagination, the mirrorwindow dyad, photography (image vs. language), the idea of simultaneous discovery/definition, silence vs. discourse and the transcending of language. The way each of these symbols of the relationship to the other functions will be explicated later in the articles.
In the following section II, I shall introduce six novels by Ghosh through problematics evolving around the themes listed above. Although it lies in the background of many of the theories and viewpoints that come through here, the ethical approach is not specifically adopted to the novels before the end of the contextualizing section III. Section IV, the core of this dissertation, which comprises six articles on the introduced six novels, will then stand more ostensibly on the ideas of Levinasian ethics in relation to the representation of the other. Section V after the articles includes an overview on the critical reception of the novels before turning by way of conclusion into the examination of the ways in which the political comes through in Ghosh‘s narration.
Parts of sections II, III.3. and III.4. are based on five articles I
published during the years 2003-2009:
2009. Ethics, language and the writing of Amitav Ghosh. In BorgBarthet, Stella (ed). A Sea of Encounters – Essays Towards a Postcolonial Commonwealth. Cross/Cultures series (Vol. 117), Amsterdam/NY: Rodopi, 335-348.
2008. Representations of riots in The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh. In Bell, David & Gerald Porter (eds). Riots in Literature. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 93-107.
2004. Representation of London in The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London. 2:1. Available: http://homepages.
gold.ac.uk/london-journal/index.html (29 Dec 2010)
2003. Ethics of Multi-Sited Representation in the Fiction of Amitav Ghosh. The Atlantic Literary Review 3:4. 164-182.
2003. Narration and Silence in the Works of Amitav Ghosh. World Literature Written in English 38:2. 28-43.
And the six articles that form the actual core of this dissertationare:
2011. [forthcoming] Amitav Ghosh‘s The Circle of Reason – dismantling the idea of purity. The Nordic Journal of English Studies.
2011. [forthcoming] 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. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, India.
2011. [forthcoming] 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.
2008. 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.
2008. The Calcutta Chromosome – the ethics of silence and knowledge. In Huttunen, Tuomas, Kaisa Ilmonen, Janne
Korkka & Elina Valovirta (eds). Seeking the Self:
Encountering the other: Diasporic Narrative and the Ethics of Representation. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 24-38.
2003. Connections beyond partitions - In an Antique Land of Amitav Ghosh. The Atlantic Literary Review 4:3. 87-107.
II. The novels
The aim of this section is to introduce the novels that will be examined in later sections. Although I avoid overlapping with other sections as much as possible, regrettably a certain amount of repetition is unavoidable. There is some repetition within the article section (IV) and also between that section and others. In introducing the novels, I shall concentrate on themes that expand on those examined in the articles, while giving the reader a general view of the texts as regards the plot and the characters.
This section then concentrates on themes that most obviously come up in the examined novels, instead of specifically tying these novels to ethical concerns. Consequently, my goal at this point is not so much to bind the novels to an ethically informed theoretical or methodological framework, as to introduce them before delineating the field of ethical study of literature and tying Ghosh‘s writing into it (sections III.1.1. & III.1.2.). In trying to bring forth the themes and motives peculiar to each novel, I apply a variety of theoretical views that clarify these issues, instead of subordinating them to any one theoretical model. In the articles, on the other hand, my primary concern is not thematical; there I am more interested in the ethically informed techniques used in the depiction of these themes and issues. Some of the subsections here are quite theoretically informed, while others are more descriptive in nature. Combined, they introduce the novels as well as the themes that run through Ghosh‘s oeuvre. Each sub-section introduces a new aspect of Ghosh‘s writing, to be found in some form in all his novels.
II.1. The Circle of Reason
The first novel by Amitav Ghosh, The Circle of Reason, was published in 1986. It attracted some critical attention, including an endorsement from the influential critic and novelist Anthony Burgess. This work could be characterized as an episodic, picaresque novel in three parts (e.g. Mondal 2007, 7). The parts are linked by the protagonist, Alu, who flees the Indian authorities after being falsely accused of terrorist activity, the intelligence officer, Jyoti Das, who is trying to capture him and a book, The Life of Pasteur, by René Vallery-Radot. The general motif running through the novel is that of weaving as the method for creating connections by intertwining various discursive threads.
In the first section, Alu lives in the village of Lalpukur with his uncle, Balaram. Balaram is devoted to science, or rather sciences, both mainstream and what could be characterized as marginalized ‗pseudo-sciences‘, like phrenology. His behaviour, accordingly, is both rational and irrational and his bizarre idea of scientific reason finally culminates in a feud with his neighbour, Bhudeb Roy, who stands for straight lines in accordance with the Western ideology of teleology and rational causal relationships instead of acknowledging that reason is circular. The feud takes on a political character in the eyes of the authorities and as a result Alu, who is the sole survivor of the tragic climax of this quarrel, is deemed a political extremist in the eyes of the police.
In the second part, following his escape, Alu finds himself in the fictive Gulf emirate of Al-Ghazira, where he joins the multilingual, multi-cultural and in every way motley crowd of illegal migrants/immigrants from Africa, Bangladesh, India and other Arab states. He lives in the house of Zindi, a former courtesan, and works as an illegal labourer. He miraculously survives the collapse of a large shopping-mall which he is helping to build.
After the accident, Alu embarks on a mock socialist project to form a money-free commune in the Souq, the ancient market area where he and his fellow immigrants are staying. Again, his actions are regarded as hostile by the authorities, and the community is attacked. Alu once again makes a narrow escape accompanied by Zindi, with Jyoti Das on their heels. The third part is set in the Algerian Sahara. The heart of Jyoti Das is no longer in the chase; he follows Alu and Zindi merely because it is expected of him. Alu, Zindi and Das all end up under the roof of an Indian doctor, Mrs Verma. Events culminate in Alu and Zindi‘s departure for India and Das abandoning his job and setting off for Europe.
The Circle of Reason has a decidedly loose plot structure, but this is compensated for by an interlocking texture of recurring images and motifs, like for instance weaving and sewing machines, migrating birds, or the biography of Pasteur. The main metaphor of the narrative is weaving, which symbolizes the act of
narrating or writing into existence stories and realities: