Session 3: Intercultural Exchanges and Affinities

4th Global Conference


Friday 21st September 2012 – Sunday 23rd September 2012
Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom

Negotiating Identities in Tabish Khair’s The Bus Stopped and MG Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song
Vivek Kumar Dwivedi
Jazan University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The 20th century witnessed large-scale migrations, especially from the so called third world countries to the West, for socio-political and economic reasons. Globalisation came as a catalyst adding to the pace of resettlement and the melting of borders. It resulted into various identities coming together with their cultural differences and their being alien to the native ethos. As a consequence many nations confronted with a series of problems that seemed difficult to resolve. Diaspora gave way to several issues to the two sides. Not only cultural differences, but also the identities, i.e. the fact that immigrants could not shed the sense of their belonging to the country they came from, gave way to diversity, conflicts of interest, divisiveness, ghettoisation, and occasional display of hostility. Increasingly it is becoming apparent that the myth of a nation with its homogenizing tendency is not enough to unify all the people living within a nation’s territorial boundaries, as the whole discourse of nation seems to ignore diversity of those different groups it seeks to homogenise.

The idea of nation is also based on race and ethnicity. Race is easier to identify because it is biological e.g., Black skinned, White skinned, whereas ethnicity is more complex. It refers to socio-linguistic groupings with clearly differentiated rituals, religion, history, etc. The nation identifies those who it considers its legitimate citizens. This idea is never clearly articulated but the exclusivities are clearly identified as a part of the discourse of the nation. According to Balibar, nationalism and racial-ethnic discrimination are in a reciprocal relationship. Where there is the idea of a nation, illiberal notion of a race and ethnicity always exist e.g., Blacks, Pakis, Wogs, etc. in the vocabulary of otherwise politically correct but racially diverse England. The last two decades are witness to the fact that with Globalisation the world is learning to celebrate diversity and pluralism. It is also the logical result of different groups living, interacting, socialising and even accepting marital bonding between diverse groups.

This paper aims at exploring how it influences a novelist’s creative urge and finds its reflection in the portrayal of characters. It seeks to examine Tabish Khair’s The Bus Stopped and MG Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song and delve deeper on these lines.

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The Other as Host: Deconstructing the Stranger in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence
Oana Fotache Dubalaru
University of Bucharest, Romania

My paper attempts a comparative analysis of two postmodern novels that might be read as instances of highly sophisticated, meta-literary writing, were they not also very significant and relevant for a contemporary problematics of encountering the Other. Both Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1972) and Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence (2008) rework the literary myth of Marco Polo’s travels (Il Milione, probably 1299); Calvino’s novel is also alluded to by Rushdie.

Besides the exotic setting and the Oriental storytelling frame, the figures of the Stranger and his ‘Other’ are constructed in a modern (and ambiguous) manner in both novels. Although at a certain level these narratives belong to the genre of historical novels, their close reading of the past involves a even closer look at the present. The issues of intercultural exchange, of tolerance, of moral responsibility become central to the two novels that develop a challenging representation of identity. The intertextual relationships between Polo’s travelogue and the later novels also thematise the motifs of stranger and host in a complex and fascinating structure.

The analytical methodology employs both theoretical studies on identity in the context of travel, and critical essays on the respective novels.

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Deadlock of Cross-Boundary Transformation in Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels
Yao-hsi Shih
Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology, Taiwan

This paper presents the impossibility of cross-boundary transformation in Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels.  Though generically diverse, these two narratives coincidentally enact the scene of submission.  Lemuel Gulliver’s ceremonial prostration to his equine master parallels Friday’s exquisite manners of gratitude to Robinson Crusoe.  Through corresponding ceremonies of submission to their respective masters, the Horse Master and Master Crusoe acknowledge Gulliver’s and Friday’s “Subjection” and “Servitude.”  These ceremonies of “Subjection” and “Servitude” legitimize and inaugurate colonizer’s cultural assimilation.

Albeit prized by the masters for their “Teachableness,” “Civility,” and “Cleanliness,” Gulliver and Friday are dualistically fixed as racial others, and structurally relegated as inferior subjects.  Thus Friday’s anglicization is no more than the metonymic presence of Robinson Crusoe.  No matter how much he emulates his master in the colonizer’s dressing and language, as the narrator eulogizes, the narratorial slippages of Friday’s “tawny” skin and “broken English” in fact caricaturize the colonized/Friday, in Homi K Bhabha’s term, as “a flawed colonial mimesis.”  Crusoe’s caricaturizing of Friday’s colonial semblance (or the colonizer’s “partial vision”) not only mirrors Crusoe’s/colonizer’s narcissism, but also subjects the master/slave duo to an irreconcilably dualistic and structural deadlock.

Comparable with Crusoe, the Horse Master never amends his judgment on Gulliver as a “perfect” and “exact” Yahoo, in spite of Gulliver’s “Civility” and “Cleanliness,” and most notably his “Prodigy” for language acquisition, which distinguishes him from the Yahoos, “the most unteachable of all Brutes.”  On the other hand, Gulliver’s persistent “Hatred and Contempt” for the Yahoos and latent anxiety over his identity as “a real Yahoo in every limb and feature” ring ever more colonial, as Gulliver’s portrayal of the Yahoo bears so close a resemblance to George Louis Leclerc Buffon’s image of the savage Hottentot in Natural History.  In many respects both the Yahoo and Hottentot match the eighteenth-century accounts of the Negro, the racial others.  The unilateral infiltration of racism and colonialism into the textures of Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe gives Swift’s satire and Defoe’s novel a coordinate point and a historical referent, which on the literal level, institutionalizes racism and colonialism in the service of empire, and which on the allegorical level, signifies the impasse of boundary crossing and transformation.

 Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)