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SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF THE PAST

LYING ON THE POSTCOLONIAL COUCH: THE IDEA OF INDIFFERENCE By Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Oxford, Rs 595

Post-colonialism has become such a hotly debated subject in academic circles today that it has become almost impossible to define it. More often than not, its relationship with colonialism is confused so far that both are considered coeval. Those more sympathetic, however, prefer to term it a process of historical amnesia.

Postcolonialism was anticipated in beginning of the 21st century in the ironic Lacanian rephrasing of Cartesian dictum, cogito ergo sum: “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think”. More recently, Jhumpa Lahiri verbalized the same paradox: “I translate, therefore I am”. A postcolonial writer thinker must indeed constantly translate his past into his present, his self into his community and so on.

For someone like Rukmini Bhaya Nair who sings a requiem to post-colonialism in Lying on the Postcolonial Couch, it evokes the image of an “undifferentiated abyss”. Taking her cue from Derrida, Nair coins the term “indifference”, for the “cold life-denying apparatus of print, of meaningless reductionism and arcane Formalisms”, which is the central metaphor “holding together the poetics of postcoloniality.”

Throughout the book, Nair consistently avoids using the term “postcolonialism” and speaks of “postcoloniality”. In this sense, Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak’s statement, “Nair’s book gives postcolonialism a decent burial”, seems more than a little misplaced.

What Nair professes to fight against in her book are “colonial impositions replayed as postcolonial attitudinizing”. Her search for “a new language of community” is fired by the optimism that postcoloniality will one day be rid of its colonial hangover.

The themes in this book can be distributed into three broad areas — interlocution, circumlocution and elocution. Nair’s conceptual framework integrates divergent motifs of post-colonial time-space, which can only be conjured up in a process of painful remembering, a putting together of the dismembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present”.

Part I shows how the verses of amateur company poets “‘otherised’ the country as one of impenetrable silence”. In Part III, Nair strives to relocate feminine sexuality in a kind of “hermaphrodite awareness”. A later chapter,“A Fatwa against Indifference”, is a special tribute to Salman Rushdie and documents the history of censorship from Plato to Ayatollah Khomenei.

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