Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Diaspora Notes 1

Makarand Paranjape, "Displaced Relations: Disaporas, Empires, Homelands." From Paranjape, Ed. _In Diaspora: Theories, Histories, Texts_. Delhi: Indialog Publications, 2001: 1-14.

Vijay Mishra, "The Diasporic Imaginary: Theorizing the Indian Diaspora." Textual Practice 10: 3, 1996, 421-447.

Mishra's essay begins his is essay with a point contrasting his approach to diaspora with William Safran's in the opening essay of the journal _Diaspora_:

In the lead essay in the foundation issue of the journal Diaspora, William Safran for instance devotes a mere twelve lines to the Indian diaspora and not unnaturally oversimplifies the characteristics of this diaspora. Unlike most other diasporas whose first movement out of the homeland can no longer be established with absolute precision, the Indian diaspora presents us with a case history that has been thoroughly documented. This is largely because the Indian diaspora began as part of British imperial movement of labour to the colonies." (421)

The key distinction Mishra makes, however, is between old and new Indian diasporas:

This narrative of diasporic movement is, however, not continuous or seamless as there is a radical break between the older diasporas of classic capitalism and the mid- to late twentieth-century diasporas of advanced capital to the metropolitan centres of the Empire, the New World, and the former settlers colonies. Since these are two interlinked buthistorically separated diasporas, I would want to refer to them as the old ('exclusive') and the new ('border') Indian diasporas. Furthermore, i would want to argue that the old Indian diasporas were diasporas of exclusivism because they created relatively self-contained 'little Indias' in the colonies. The founding writer of the old Indian diaspora is, of course, V.S. Naipaul. The new diaspora of late capital (the diaspora of the border), on the other hand, shared characteristics with many other similar diasporas such as the Chicanos and the Koreans in the US. (421-422)

Paranjape, in his essay relies heavily on Mishra. He quotes Mishra's essay from SPAN for a definition of diaspora:

1. Relatively homogeneous, displaced communities brought to serve the Empire (slave, contract, indendured, etc.) coexisting with indigenous/other races with markedly ambivalent and contradictory relationship with the Motherland(s). Hence the Indian diasporas of South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, Malaysia; the Chinese diasporas of Malaysia, Indonesia. Linked to high (classical) Capitalism.

2. Emerging new diasporas based on free migration and linked to late capitalism: post-war South Asian, Chinese, Arab, Korean, communities in Britain, Europe, America, Canada, Australia. (Mishra, quoted in Paranjape, 3)

Paranjape follows Mishra in critiquing Safran:

Safran's model, which he illustrates by listing the six features of diasporas-- dispersal, collective memory, alienation, respect and longing for the homeland, a belief in its restoration, and self-definition in terms of this homeland--aremore applicable to the Jewish than the South Asian diaspora. Mishra ("The Diasporic Imaginary" 443) considers Safran's characteristics of the Indian diaspora -- "middlemen role, long history, integrationist and particularist foci" -- to be "oversimplified." (4)

Paranjape does disagree with Mishra on at least one point -- he feels Mishra romanticizes diasporic culture too much:

Where I differ with Mishrra is in his privileging the diasporic to the level of a special epistemology which can be used to define postcoloniality itself. For instance, in 'New Lamps for Old: Diaspora Migrancy Border,' Mishra, carried away by his enthusiasim for 'diasporic analysis' over "a vague 'postcolonial' theory" (70), considers his essay to be, among other things, "a celebration of diasporas as the exemplary condition of late modernity" (67). Mishra contrasts the diasporic consciousness with older, primordial, ethnic identities, arguing that "diasporic epistemology locates itself squarely in the realm of the hybrid, in the domain of cross-cultural and contaminated social and cultural regimes" (71). . . . Despite acknowledging the danger that "diasporas may well become romanticized as the ideal social condition" ("The Diasporic Imaginary" 426), in effect, that is what the theoretical stances of critics like Mishra and Bhabha are tantamount to. Neither refers to the fact that diasporic communities are known, at times, to support the most rabidly violent and fanatical of causes, not just ideologically but financially. (4-5)

I tend to agree with Paranjape that romanticizing diasporization is a mistake.

That said, obviously the liberating effects of the diasporic condition are extremely important in MN's films. What is her theory of diaspora?

Paranjape picks up on Mishra's claim that Naipaul was the "founding father of the old diaspora," and disagrees with it (10), looking at Naipaul's relationship with his father as evidence that Naipaul was in fact defining himself by his rejection of the conditions of "old" diasporic life.

Paranjape also wants to assert an anti-diasporic perspective -- a nationalist perspective -- into conversations about diaspora. He brings it up in connection with his discussion of Midnight's Children as a diasporic text:

Midnight's Children, then, is about the decomposition of India, about its disintegration and dispersal. I would argue that this deconstructive narrative is an outcome of the new diasporic consciousness which, because it lacks internal coherence, cannot see any cohesion in the object that it describes. All that it can do is to try to incorporate its fictional India into a borderless, deterritorialized, but yet commercially lucrative marketplace whose multiple sites are scattered across the most advanced nation-states of the world. In a way, Mishra's own privileging of the diasporic imaginary legitimates his own (dis)location, while my essay may be seen as being grounded in a nationalist space. As a corrective to this view, I myself have argued that "there is no 'pure belonging; there is no 'pure' diaspora. What we must contend with, instead, are trypes of belonging and uprooting, affirmations and denials of identity, sameness and difference" (What about those who stayed back home? Interrogating the Privileging of Diasporic Writing", 9) (11)

* * *

Also reading from December 2009 issue of Journal of Postcolonial Writing, from the physical copy in the U-Penn periodicals reading room.

Read Julia Emberley's "A Child is Testifying: Testimony and the Cultural Construction of Childhood in a Trans/National Frame." Was not terribly enthused -- the sole example she works with is Deborah Ellis' "Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak," which was pulled from a children's curriculum in Canada after protests from the Canadian Jewish Congress. The material she adduces relating to testimonials, Freud, and so on don't seem to amount to very much. Anyway, the controversy over this book seems to have more to do with political biases and rhetorics (i.e., whether it's acceptable for north American children to be exposed to the point of view of a child who wants to grow up to be a martyr) than it is about the actual content (or effect) of the child narratives.

Also read parts of "To Be Good (again): The Kite Runner as allegory of global Ethics," by David Jefferess. Not terribly impressed here either. Confused about whether it makes sense at all to apply all this theory (Judith Butler, Anthony Appiah) with a book that has a problematic relationship to its ethno-cultural subject.

I actually enjoyed and learned the most from Bruce King's review essay, "Muslim Modernities." King made me curious to read Nadeem Aslam's "The Wasted Vigil." But he also unleashes somewhat of a tirade against Tabish Khair's book of post 9/11 essays, "Muslim Modernities." That's too bad, because I really like Tabish Khair as a fiction writer especially (might be interesting to write an essay triangulating the historical Manto with the "Manto" in "Filming").

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