"Spatial Discourses in Anita Desai's Baumgartner's Bombay."

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,045 words

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[(essay date 2006) In the following essay, Parekh maintains that Baumgartner's Bombay is a unique contribution to literary theories of alterity.]

Postcolonial narratives in general have shifted the focus from analysis of the coloniser to that of the colonised, mounting counter-narratives to the colonial centre. While this needed shift constituted a politics of "recognition" as opposed to the colonial practice of "exclusion" and "erasure," whereby cultural and centre/margin relationships were de-centred, its oppositional positioning re-invoked the binarism of colonial discourses and ideologies. Anita Desai's Baumgartner's Bombay posits a critique of these polarities within both colonial and postcolonial inscriptions of nationhood, undergirded by constructions of race, gender, religion, and class differences. Read as a narrative of postcolonial dislocation and alienation, it offers us a perspective that is missing in the current forms of postcolonial theorising. The postcolonial migrant from whose perspective the narrative unfolds the transitional and translational phenomena of "displacement"1 is not the Anglophone Chamcha of The Satanic Verses nor the subaltern native. It is the European migrant/refugee Jew whose trajectory of movement defies normative patterns of colonial travel from west to east, the diasporic dispersal from colony to metropole, or the neo-imperial directions of global tourism. The narrative is forged in the intersections of multiple geopolitical histories carved in-between the meta-narratives of British colonialism, German Nazism and India's independence struggles and emerging nationhood. Baumgartner's Bombay locates alternative voices that emerge from complicated diasporic movements oscillating between multiple metropoles (Germany and England) and colonies (India and the homelessness of Jewish refugees). The voices that articulate these intersecting movements and locations have escaped inclusion within critical and theoretical frameworks of literary analysis. Baumgartner's Bombay invites critical interventions that enable a reexamination of and an extension of preoccupations within Postcolonial theories and critical fields.

(In)fusion approach, as proposed and elucidated by Ranjan Ghosh, opens up the critical and interpretive space by questioning the premises and claims of existing theoretical paradigms as self-contained fields and recognises critical inquiry as an engagement with intellectual "transversality," cross-conceptuality and "perceptivity". In this context, while Desai's text can be studied from Postcolonial and Postmodern theoretical perspectives, as various culture studies and literary theorists have revisited these areas, the (In)fusion approach allows a re-examination of the heterogeneity of postcolonial conditions, as they formulate, recreate or resist the nexus of political and cultural definitions of self and society. I will analyse Anita Desai's Baumgartner's Bombay as locating alternative heterotopic spaces to the recurring paradigm of colonised cities and postcolonial nation states. Michel Foucault's conceptualisation of "heterotopias" as those "contradictory places" opens up the discussion of this paper.2 However, (In)fusion approach opens up other strands of inquiry: how do these heterotopias operate in a narrative that interweaves the histories of British colonialism, German Nazism and Indian nationalism? Moreover, Henri Lefebvre's study of "difference" in relation to its denial within the spatial realm, through the concept of "transparent space,"3 as well as Trinh Minh-ha's notion of "territorialized knowledge" that advances a "sovereign territory,"4 are important interventions...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100090484