In Stereotype confronts the importance of cultural stereotypes in shaping the ethics and reach of global literature. Mrinalini Chakravorty focuses on the seductive force and explanatory power of stereotypes in multiple South Asian contexts, whether depicting hunger, crowdedness, filth, slums, death, migrant flight, terror, or outsourcing. She argues that such commonplaces are crucial to defining cultural identity in contemporary literature and shows how the stereotype's ambivalent nature exposes the crises of liberal development in South Asia.
Chakravorty considers the influential work of Salman Rushdie, Aravind Adiga, Michael Ondaatje, Monica Ali, Mohsin Hamid, and Chetan Bhagat, among others, to illustrate how stereotypes about South Asia provide insight into the material and psychic investments of contemporary imaginative texts: the colonial novel, the transnational film, and the international best-seller. Probing circumstances that range from the independence of the Indian subcontinent to poverty tourism, civil war, migration, domestic labor, and terrorist radicalism, Chakravorty builds an interpretive lens for reading literary representations of cultural and global difference. In the process, she also reevaluates the fascination with transnational novels and films that manufacture global differences by staging inter subjective encounters between cultures through stereotypes.
About the Author
Mrinalini Chakravorty is assistant professor of English at the University of Virginia and concentrates on post colonial literature and film; studies of race, gender, and sexuality; and cultural studies. She is particularly interested in the theoretical intersections among these areas, including but not limited to transnational approaches to the study of literary culture, aesthetic responses to globalization, and modes of minority discourse. She is the author of several articles that have appeared in differences, PMLA, and Modern Fiction Studies, as well as in various edited collections.
A book begins long before it takes the shape of one, sometimes in fragments and in conversations that only later seep into its pages. The ideas in this book first germinated in. the many rich conversations I had with a fabulous cohort of mentors, colleagues, and friends at the University of California, Irvine.
As far as these things are knowable, the initial inspiration for the project came from David Lloyd's seminar "Modernity and the Irish Body; which to this day serves as my model for how to read meticulously while challenging the assumptions of texts even when succumbing to their pleasures. Irish colonial modernity, of course, was shot through with colonialist stereotypes of Irish otherness. Yet the fantastic recalcitrance of the Irish in appropriating and redeploying these stereotypes toward insurgent, counter colonial practices is a lesson that David taught so very well and one that endured with me. I feel deeply fortunate to have been inspired by David's example, and for finding such a. brilliant and generous interlocutor who spurred my early interests in cultural stereotypes and compelled me to run with it in my own way.
I am also grateful for the steadfast encouragement provided by Gabriele Schwab and J. Hillis Miller. My work has benefited immensely from their truly unorthodox and intellectually lively engagement. Gaby has been a friend and confidante without parallel; from her I have learned that scholarly curiosity should be motivational, ethically directed, and spellbinding. To Hillis, I am infinitely grateful for showing me the importance of tackling knotty problems with grace and diligence. He has also been a tireless advocate on my behalf, selflessly sharing both his sparkling reflections on literature as well as his immense experience of the profession. Indeed David, Gaby, and Hillis have persistently modeled a generosity of spirit and responsiveness that I can only hope to emulate. They have all read multiple iterations of this book in its present and former incarnations with unfailing enthusiasm and eye to detail. That the book is not perfect is no measure of their failure to offer timely and rigorous feedback; any shortcomings in the book remain indeed my own.
This book would not have been possible without Lindon Barrett, who continues to be a vital and prevailing influence in my thought and life; I dedicate this work to him. Above all, Lindon was a friend of the deepest, most fiercely loyal kind, and I miss his presence terribly. Without Lin-don, I would have little concept of what it means to be truly passionate about living a life of the mind motivated by an acute desire to see a more reciprocal, equitable world. He was singular in encouraging a unique kind of intellectual camaraderie and risk-taking among his students and colleagues, many of whom were part of the cultural studies cohort' that thrived in Irvine under his direction. I thank Leila Neti, Janet Neary, Amy Parsons, Arnold Pan, Bruce Barnhart, Naomi Greyser, Ginger Hill, Linh Hua, Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan, and Jared Sexton for the many energetic conversations we had about culture, race, and representation as part of this group. Many other friendships sustained the initial conceptions of this project, including in particular those with Jeffrey Atteberry, Barbara Antoniazzi, Mariam Beevi, Lan Duong, Bond Love, Patricia Pierson, and Jim Ziegler. Rachel Meyer deserves a mention all of her own: she single-handedly infused these years with fun, hilarity, gossip, and intellectual vigor for so many in her circle. I miss her zeal for life. At Irvine, thanks are also due to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Steve Mailloux, Julia Lupton, Jim Steintrager, Beheroze Shroff, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Wolfgang Iser, Rey Chow, Homer Brown, Glen Mimura, Ketu Katrak, Rei Terada, Fredric Jameson, and Etienne Balibar.
In many ways, a book is a bit of a time machine that travels with the author over time. If this book's expedition began in California, it has since crisscrossed many places and changed shape in each sojourn. At Kenyon College in Ohio, I benefited greatly from discussions with Jesse Matz, Ted Mason, Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, Wendy Singer, and Joseph Campana. I also thank Sara Clarke Kaplan, Kirstie Dorr, and Asha Nadkarni for friendship, spirited optimism, and their conviction that what we dreamed collectively would always take us further. Across time and space, the direction the book ultimately traveled also profited from critical conversations with and the generous responses of Sangeeta Ray, Nancy Armstrong, and Warren Montag.
While the first inspiration for this book was formed in California, its final shape owes everything to the insightful and sustained support it received in Virginia. More than anything, this is a book born in Virginia. For this, my colleagues in the department of English at the University of Virginia deserve my most heartfelt gratitude. In particular, I thank Iahan Ramazani, Gordon Braden, Eric Lott, Caroline Rody, Steve Arata, Cristina Dela Colleta, and Karen Chase for offering sage advice during the first moments of revision. At key moments over the years, Susan Fraiman, Anna Brickhouse, Sandhya Shukla, Bruce Holsinger, Rita Felski, and Michael Levenson asked incisive questions and made invaluable suggestions that breathed new life into the project. I will forever be beholden to Susan, Anna, Bruce, and Sandhya for being such good friends and for being so ever ready to read and comment on new material at short notice. My thanks to Gordon Braden, Jahan Ramazani, Alison Booth, and Cynthia Wall, who, as chairs of the department, contributed more to the making of this book than they know.
For their resolute friendship, brilliant provocations, and timely strategic help in making sure that the project endured past my own insecurities with it, I am especially indebted to Deborah McDowell and Marlon Ross. From the first moment of our encounter, Debbie has been a stalwart friend and ally; her gift of looking past convention while remaining practical is one that has truly inspired. I thank her also for the opportunity to be involved in the rich intellectual life of the Carter G. Woodson Institute. In Marlon, I happened upon a perfect mentor. Indeed, I am at a loss for words to convey my appreciation of the help he has extended me over the years. He has a rare talent for asking the kinds of searching, probing questions that electrify your own thoughts. Beyond this, his ability to enter into subtle conversations on topics that are far afield of his own and to consistently grasp the larger stakes of an argument that at times were obscure even to me while making them, and his willingness to always say yes to requests to read, are profoundly astounding.
As much as writing is a solitary endeavor, it also thrives on nurture and sociality. For laughter, delectable foods, spritely conversation, and all manner of much-needed breaks, I thank my friends Sylvia Chong, Michael Puri, Neeti Nair, Jennifer Tsien, Geeta Patel, Kath Weston, Lisa Woolfork, Christopher Krentz, Yarimar Bonilla, Brad Pasanek, Jennifer Greeson, and Vicki Olwell. A special shout out is reserved for Zahid Chaudhary—coconspirator and last-minute reader par excellence. I have also been fortunate to have a team of outstanding graduate students at the University of Virginia who have interrogated, inspired, and contributed to my scholarship in ways that, while not always perceptible, are absolutely vital. I am proud to stand in solidarity with the path-breaking, projects of Alwin Jones, Zetoile Imma, Anuj Kapoor, Sonya Donaldson, Shermaine Jones, Alex Gil, Marie Ostby, Jesse Bordwin, and Annie Galvin. Anujs tireless research assistance and thought-provoking responses, especially in the last years of writing, have been equally energizing. I also thank the many others in my seminars and in the Postcolonial Studies reading group at Virginia whose insights have opened new avenues of thought at every turn.
This book would never have been started, restarted, or finished without the constancy of love I have received from my family. I feel immeasurable gratitude for my father, Milan Chakravorty, who is my model for an unfalteringly energetic work ethic, modesty, and calmness of spirit. I thank him for asking time and again, "Is the book finished yet?" -a question that, while irksome, was infinitely motivational. My mother, Joba Chakravorty, has taught me through example that one must always be open to refashioning oneself. I continue to be sustained by her cheerfulness, wit, and belief in me. For my sister, Meenakshy: what can I say? The adventure continues, and am so happy that she is on this ride with me. I admire her strength, intellect, and joy for life. My thanks to her for remarking so astutely on the whole manuscript, and for be,ing ever so ready to talk about things. I am also delighted now to include my niece Shaanti in our mix, for her unparalleled enthusiasm and chatterbox inquisitiveness. Thanks are also due to Kamalesh and Bharati Banerjee, Robi Banerjee, Soumya Raychaudhuri, Uma Bose, Reba Verma, Kishalay and Swati Chakraborty, and Patrashila and Sulekha Bhattacharya for' many kindnesses along the way. For being my family on a different shore, I thank R. M. Neti, Sanju, and Suseela Neti (especially for her many culinary offerings and camaraderie), and Iaya Leslie.
I am also lucky to be in the exquisite circle of love, life, and laughter that I share with Leila Neti, Jeffrey Atteberry, and Narayan Neti, For emergency reading, editing, and feedback, I couldn't ask for a better per- son than Jeff. For his constant friendship, I am profosndly grateful. Leila, I thank, for unselfishly sharing her words and ideas in order to make sure that this is a better book than it was. I am glad for her brilliance, for our travels, and for the enduring closeness that comes from sharing life in full color. Narayan remains my source of wonder. I wait for when he can read the book and tell me what's wrong with it while reassuring me, as only he can, that "it's okay:' The fact is that all of these people will only feel joy when the book, imperfect as it may be, is before them, and for this I feel very fortunate.
Over the years, I have rehearsed portions of the book's arguments at various conferences and colloquia, and I thank all those who offered valuable feedback. Specifically, I'm grateful to interlocutors at the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA) conventions, the University of Oklahoma, Kenyon College, the University of Nevada, Reno, Old Dominion University, Pitzer College, Occidental College, and San Diego State University. I have also benefited tremendously from participating in the two-year-long Forced Migration Seminar organized by Alon Con fino and Jeffrey Rossman and sponsored by the Page Barbour Initiative at the University of Virginia. Thanks are also due to the research librarians at the University of Virginia, the National Library, Kolkata, and the British Library, London. Portions ~f chapter 4 and 5 have originally appeared as articles in PMLA 128, no. 3 (May 2013), published by the Modern Language Association of America and in Modern Fiction Studies 58, no. 3 (2012), and I thank the editors at each journal for permission to reprint. When my own belief in finding the book a suitable publishing home was ebbing, I was lucky that the manuscript received such timely, conscientious, and amazingly supportive editorial guidance as that given by Rebecca Walkowitz, Matthew Hart, and David James. Not only did Rebecca, Matthew, and David see it as a fitting addition for their series, Literature Now, they were also seminal in clarifying much-needed revisions for the whole structure and flow of the book, and in setting a manageable schedule. They renewed my faith in the blind submission process that is such a cornerstone of our intellectual lives, and for this I remain infinitely in their debt. In Philip Leventhal at Columbia University Press I found an editor who was unwavering in his support and care for shepherding the project through its various stages from securing readers reports in lightning swift fashion and onward. Without a doubt, the anonymous reviewers for Columbia University Press read the manuscript with care and made numerous invaluable suggestions that improved the book. It has also been a pleasure to receive meticulous and extraordinarily efficient copyediting advice from Whitney Johnson, Leslie Kriesel, and Patti Bower, and the aid of Heather Jones in preparing the index. I am grateful to them all for ensuring that the book is in print.
In Stereotype would not have been what it is without the institutional support given by the Regents at the University of California; numerous summer grants from the department of English and Comparative Literature at UC, Irvine; the Center for Writing and Translation, Irvine; the School for Criticism and Theory at Cornell University; a Midwest Faculty Seminar Grant from Kenyon College and the University of Chicago; the Diversity Fellowship from the Teaching Resource Center at the University of Virginia; and a Summer grant, a Sesquicentennial Fellowship, and a publication subvention from the University of Virginia.
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