Inhabiting the Other (Essays on Literature and Exile)

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Item Code: IDK969
Author: Sharmistha Lahiri
Publisher: Aryan Books International
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 8173052050
Pages: 215
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.4" X 6.3”
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Book Description
From the Jacket
Literary inspiration that drew impetus from a state of exile and suffering has engaged the attention of scholars in view of is overwhelming occurrence in contemporary literature. Texts built around the sign of displacement have allowed readings at multiple levels of space and time leading to shifts in trends in hermeneutics. The editor’s goal in this volume is no give a critical overview of certain common denominators present in texts of a similar persuasion, functioning within identical parameters, albeit at different junctures of history. Physical exile and isolation led, in many instances, to a blossoming of the creative faculties which sought to ease the numbing feeling of an inner exile. The present collection of essays, representing texts from different countries of Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, institute a discussion on certain issues that plagued the minds of some of the greatest writers of the world.

Sharmistha Lahiri is directing Italian Studies at the Department of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of Delhi.

Inhabiting the Other (Essays on Literature and Exile) is a collection of articles from different parts of the world presented in the International Seminar organized by the Department of Germanic and Romance Studies. The seminar centred around a common point of reference to the theme of exile and provided a forum for debate seeking to explore the issue with its manifold shades and nuances. In editing a volume such as this I incurred numerous debts. First, I would like to thank our Department at the University of Delhi for having provided the kind of help necessary when compiling a collection of essays go to Vibha Maurya as well as other colleagues for support and to Shaswati Mazumdar and Evelyn George for helping me with editing a few of the articles. A special thanks go to Manmohar Singh for helping me out with typing my manuscript. Last but not least, my thanks go to Vikas Arya who has extended steady support for the publication of the book.

As the title of the present volume suggests, literary texts predicated upon exile experiences have been brought together in this collection of essays with memorable instances from world literature. The feeling of uprootedness and alienation has been dogging the footsteps of man perhaps since the beginning of history, even without any physical uprooting from native lands, but it has acquired unprecedented intensity and dimension in the twentieth century. Two world wars, ethnic cleansing, economic deprivation as also a search for more conducive creative environments led people to flee their native lands, be it by imposition, or by voluntary choice. The rhetoric of migrancy has fired poetic imagination and has lent voice to the plight of the emigrant, the fugitive, the banished, the dispossessed and the recluse, while the dream of homecoming continued to burn. It is a discourse built around the sign by a quest for rehabilitation which stretches across generations. In situations of multiculturalism it evinces a pattern of responses that trigger the construction of a variant idiom vis-à-vis the narrative of the dominant culture.

In going through the wide gamut of views articulated through the essays in question, exile emerges as a hydra-headed phenomenon and one is amazed at the array of issues it throws up for discussion, the changes it has brought to bear on the lives of nations and individuals and the process of formation of new communities even while some were pushed into the margins of society.

If one were to identify, from the maze of narrative material, one salient feature common to all experience of exile, it certainly could be the issue of identity, the quest of the self for its moorings, in history as well as in the immediate existential order of things. The image of the land of origin and the process of its transformation in the eyes of the displaced provided one of the principal sources of creative insight, vehicled into the sphere of general imagination through innovative textual strategies and a strongly nuanced narration. The disruption in communication allowed the exile the distance required to develop a fresh insight and a creative perspective on the familiar images. If dislocation entailed loss of identity and a cultural disorientation, coupled with yearning for one’s homeland, the process of writing, by itself, signified a move towards redefining the Self-while straining one’s resources to forge a new identity. The émigré had to face myriad challenges like economic community was another factor which removed the supportive base which had sustained creative development, but led to the acquisition of a new language, followed by a phase of acculturation with the new realities. Clearly, the exile’s journey towards rehabilitation encompassed a dual objective: recognition and acceptance, aimed on the one hand at legitimation of cultural diversity and on the other at creating conditions for assimilation with the mainstream culture. Literature, in this context, is an embedded discourse and a narrative tool to negotiate one’s position between two cultural realities. Through literary articulation the exile underlines his role as the spokesperson of the diverse and therein problematises the concept of cultural identities. With his expressivity he moves towards ending isolation and relocating the Self at the new site. Moves towards ending isolation and relocating the Self at the new site. In his seminal work on multiculturalism Charles Taylor calls it the Politics of Recognition, which could be logically extended into including definitions of political and juridical subjecthood with respect to multiculturally traditional communities.

An ethnopoetic element is implicit within the narratives of multiculturalism and exile. This follows from the basic assumption that each experience in exile is individual, depending on the historical specificities of time, space and circumstances that eventually led to the state of exile in each case. It is different in instances of inner exile. For some who did not choose the path of physical exile, withdrawal into the inner self akin to an inner emigration manifested itself in literary constructions apparently not related to the realities of the proximate outside world. This is not to obliterate the fact that the act of withdrawal, perceived as a mode of rejection of the prevailing norms, was by nature, an act of subversion. During the Fascist epoch in Italy, for instance, there was signification of ruptured communication in the hermetic poetry of the Italian writer Eugenio Montale in his works like Ossi di Seppia (Bones of Squid), Occasioni (Occasions) – minimalist, terse verses rendered inaccessible by his use of obscure words and constant allusions to the suggestions of a private mythology. Taking a stand against the directive principles of the official Fascist culture and shorn of material sustenance, the poet withdrew into a shell of supreme indifference and survived those turbulent years with dignity. Thus, writing, for an exile or an expatriate did not simply constitute an act literariness, it was an act of social and political will. In her critique of Italian American culturalism, Renate Holub adopts a ‘culture-specific methodology’ and reads multicultural narratives along Gramscian lines. In his “notes on linguistics”, Prison Notebooks, no. 29, Gramsci refers to the multiple components of one’s identity structured by linguistic experiences encountered by the body with respect to dominant or not-so-dominant languages and touches upon the universal desire to “speak the places where one’s body has been”. He also addresses the concern of cultural legitimation in his notes on philosophy and folklore, conceptual tools which Holub refers to as “structures of feeling” and “universal expressivity”. Accordingly, we might observe that the multiple components structuring the narrative of the exile or the expatriate should be recognized in terms of as Manuela Bertone says- “a richly compact set of responses to a common intellectual concern: the emergence of a sense of ‘otherness’, the awareness of a shared cultural past, the need to express both of them in artistic terms.” Thus the motivational imperatives underlying the Gramscian concepts of “structures of feeling” and “universal expressivity” may help explain the unique blend of the particular and the universal in the intricate weave of multicultural narratives and addresses some of the concerns voiced in the discourse of exile.

At this point it might be useful to reflect on certain paradigms that indicate the interconnectedness of multicultural narratives and the representational aspect of the texts on exile. In this context it is possible to locate the point of intersection in the categories of time and space to locate the point of intersection in the categories of time and space which need to be factored into any appraisal of a discourse on exile. For, as evidenced by the pattern of responses, it is gererationally distinguished. Daniel Aaron, in his text on culture studies, sets up a model which identifies three stages through which the ex-patriate, or in his term the ‘hyphenate’ (the dominant culture holds him at a hyphen’s length), writer has to pass to reach ‘de-hyphenation’. The first phase writer wants to familiarize the reader with his cultural identity and employs very recognizable ethnic features in his narration to ‘humanize’ and demystify the negative stereotypes associated with the group. The second stage writer is less prone to conciliate the dominant group and is a militant critic of the hegemonistic politics of the mainstream culture. He ‘reinvents’ his ethnicity and adopts a policy of strategic essentialism of the dominant group. The third stage writer, having appropriated the language and the tools of the culture, feels himself part of the dominant group. A.J. Tamburri, an Italian-American critic, cites Aaron to point out that the third stage writer is aware of his cultural heritage but transcends “a mere parochial allegiance ‘to bring’ into the province of [general imagination] personal experiences which for the first-stage (“local colorist”) and second stage (“militant protester”) writers comprised the very stuff of their literary material”. As a case in point we might cite the experience of Jhumpa Lahiri, the recent Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Interpreter of Maladies, who agrees that the question of identity especially for those who are culturally displaced is a difficult one. She mixed an attractive combination of local colour, characters and settings within the framework of western narrative tradition and, as critics remark, entranced her reviewers with the ‘heady Calcutta flavour’ of many of her stories in The Interpreter of Maladies. As a child of the Indian Diaspora in the United States, Jhumpa Lahiri illustrates the generationally graduated response to the issue of identity when she says that in superficial ways she is much more American than her parents; yet, it is difficult for those with her background to feel completely American either. One has to recognize that for the older generation the challenges of exile, loneliness, sense of alienation are more acute than they are for their children, a feeling which another expatriate writer Salman Rushdie tried to define when he said “it is an emotional baggage one carries wherever one goes”, while explaining his nostalgic association with India. A reading of the multi-layered texts in Shame and The Moor’s Last Singh would render its purport amply clear.

Truly, writing under conditions of exile has been viewed as a defining category in literature. With the backdrop of a growing trend to engage with the texts of the other groups in the society as a separate category, to be viewed in relation to the paradigms of the mainstream culture, we take into consideration certain formulations in this context, brought into the discussion by the writers of Italian American descent who, together, with the Black Americans and the Hispanic Americans, among others, constitute a sizable presence of ‘otherness’ in the cultural profile of the United State. Fred. L. Gardaphe, a renowned scholar of Italian American literature, introduces a variant to the model of Aaron by adopting Vico’s theory of the three-fold division in the history of Italian American literature. Gardaphe’s classification points to the poetic mode of expressivity in the primitive stage and the mythic mode of militant ethnicity in the second stage, which engages in “a materialization and an articulation of the past”. The third stage brings the philosophic mode of self-reflection and expression and the writer is confident and at ease with his ethnic background; he looks at the writer is confident and at case with his ethnic background, he looks at the dominant culture “less critically but more knowingly” and even employs a parodic representation of his ethnicity. These three stages, in Gardaphe’s formulation, have their parallels in modern and “contemporary socio-cultural constructions of realism, modernism and post-modernism. Against reflections on the categories of Aaron and Gardaphe, Tamburri emphasizes on a cognitive Peircean perspective and traces the progress “from a state of non-rationality (“feeling”) to practicality (“experience”) and on to pure rationality (“thought”) and concludes in terms of a two-fold evolutionary process-both temporal and cognitive, that may or may not be mutually inclusive.” Tamburri buttresses his argument with examples drawn from three texts by Italian American writers – The Evening News by Tony Ardizzone, Benedetta in Guysterland by Giose Rimanelli and Umbertina by Helen Barolini – and establishes the point that the temporal and the cognitive may not coincide at any given stage. Another reading in the evolutionary process is offered by Rose Basile Green who identifies, in the generational divide on approaches to literature, moments of “revulsion and counter revulsion.” She points out that the first generation settlers in their anxiety to obtain identity in the new land moved away from their cultural traditions whereas in a later phase the immigrants experienced a counter-revulsion and returned to the ethnic roots to affirm their cultural identity. The literary career of Italian American writer John Fante illustrates best how a writer oscillated between two words and tried to grapple with this cultural displacement. Between his two books, The Road to Los Angeles and Wait until Spring, Bandini, Fante changed his approach to the text and abandoned the former novel to retrace his cultural memory and recuperate the ethnic past. His character Arturo Bandini “must first rescue able to move on in the underground literary world in the new land in which he was born.


Part I
Sharmistha Lahiri
2.Art, Exile and the Case of James Joyce: A Note16
Lalita Subbu
3.Albert Camus : Kingdom of Exile – A Biblical Paradigm in Exile and the Kingdom25
Dominique Sarfaty-Varma
4.The Exile in the Plays of Samuel Beckett33
Hema V. Raghavan
5.The Land of the Dead in Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Singh and some Reflections Based on Indian Response to the Theme of Exile40
Rajakrishnan V.
6.Milan Kundera and ‘Forgetting’ as a Metaphor51
Rosy Singh
Part II
7.Faces of Exile in Portuguese Literature68
Maria Alzira Seixo
8.Travel and Metaphors of Exile in African Literature in Portuguese75
Alberto Carvalho
9.Two Exiles in the Contemporaneous Brazil86
Fernando Cristovao
10.Camilo Pessanha and the Poetry of Exile100
Ana Paula Laborinho
11.Sunday Circle on Mondays : Exile in Vienna107
Margit Koves
12.Neither Here nor There : Reflections on German-German Exile116
Manfred Stassen
13.Brecht’s “Fugitives in Conversation”125
Shaswati Mazumdar
14.Notes on Fontamara135
Stefano Fossati
15.God was Born in Exile : Mircea Eliade and the Recuperation of the Sacred147
Mircea Itu
16.Exile Blossomed – The Case of Yiddish Literature157
Pratibha Bhattacharya
17.Exile as Recuperation of the Past in Augusto Roa Bastos’ El Fiscal166
Vijaya Venkataraman
18.Exile as Ex-centricity : Juan Goytisolo’s Rehabilitation of Moorish Spain in Reivindicaion del Conde don Julian181
Sonya S. Gupta
19.I Shall Inhabit My Name or Memory of Oblivion194
Antonia Cabanilles
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