Productions of blasphemy: Nationalism and sexual difference in the postcolonial novel
Challakere, Padmaja N.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation focuses on the narrative representation of moments of blasphemy in the writings of Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Sara Suleri, Carolyn Steedman, and Mukul Kesavan by focusing on the issue of 'what narrative energies motivate the production of blasphemy' and 'from where does the decision to blaspheme come'. By reading these representations of blasphemy in the context of 'blasphemy' as it was invoked in the "Rushdie affair" and the reactionary nationalist work it performed, I challenge the tendency to locate blasphemy in an act, intention, program, or a proper name. By drawing on the Foucauldian sense of transgression as that which is determined by, rather than an overcoming of the limits of law, I argue that the texts of Rushdie and Kureishi offer too narrow a view of blasphemy. This is because blasphemy here is tied to an exuberant iconoclasm that is assumed to generate a radical social agency. In contrast, the texts of Sara Suleri, Steedman, and Kesavan show up the problems involved in naming an act as transgressive. The texts of Suleri and Steedman show us the labor, body, and cost of transgression that is suppressed in Rushdie's texts by giving us a history of agency that does not cross over into visibility. A feminist and materialist analysis of the scene of blasphemy's production can produce new and productive ways of thinking about blasphemy. Such a reading tells us that blasphemy in Rushdie's texts emerges out of a male sexual anxiety about authorship and authority. Such a reading also shows how Kureishi's anxiety about imagination in the "post-Rushdie affair" predicament has forced him to transfix London as the natural site of modernity, secularism, and imagination. This becomes clear when we read this novel against his "pre-Rushdie affair" text, "Sammy and Rosie get Laid" where he lays bare the binding of London and Pakistan. If blasphemy in Steedman's Landscape for a Good Woman and Suleri's Meatless Days takes the form of an exposure of nationalism's power to conscript woman's body as a cultural signifier for nation-making, in Kesavan's historical novel Looking Through Glass blasphemy is a metaphor for the failed activism of the ordinary people of Indian nationalist history.
Cultural anthropology; English literature