- The Politics of Home: Postcolonial Relocations and Twentieth-Century Fiction
Recent appraisals of the politics of location have emphasized the transitory nature of belonging within the context of vast transnational changes. The migrant, the nomad, the rootless have replaced the fixed subject of specific national and cultural spaces. Among these displaced people are the cosmopolitans, the privileged who are able to celebrate their hybridity and cultural positions. They live and work in the Western metropolis, earn in dollars or pounds, and often serve as spokespersons for displaced minorities. They also carry documents that enable them to cross national boundaries with relative ease. Other groups of migrants are the unwilling ones: the Filipino or Sri Lankan worker in Kuwait, the Mexican, the Haitian in the U.S., the Vietnamese in Germany. These subjects’ destinies are decided by the unscrupulous manipulations of global capitalists; their “hybrid” status is marked by economic uncertainty and the fear of violence. Often these migrants are deprived of any legal rights; they have no documents (passports of “legal” workers are confiscated by their employers); without documents, they are constantly at the mercy of their employers and brutal police forces. Their homelessness, therefore, is superscribed upon official dictates.
In the Politics of Home, Rosemary Marangoly George is concerned with the homelessness of the more privileged group; she scrutinizes those practitioners of “global English” whose texts construct ideas of homes “which are at best vigorously interrogated, frequently unchallenged, and never quite rejected.” In her analysis of these writers, [End Page 471] George explodes the idea of “third world” or postcolonial fiction and instead argues that “an examination of the concepts and structures we recognize as ‘home’ in the context of global English generates a reassessment of our understanding of belonging in the English language as much as the spaces we call home.” Her aim in this text is to “read more than the domestic into representations of the home, to keep location from being reduced to a geographic place on the map and politics from being reduced (or elevated) to nationalism.”
Examining the “impact on English women of successful home management in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,” George demonstrates that there is a “direct link between attaining subjecthood and the denial of the same to Others.” Consequently, the “politically authoritative Englishwoman was made in the colonies: she was first and foremost an imperialist.” This claim is persuasively argued through an analysis of Maud Diver’s writing. George is less convincing in her reading of Conrad, who resists her attempts to classify him as either an “iconoclast” or a “panic-stricken . . . aristocrat.” She also claims that Conrad’s “curious homelessness” makes him the “first of many colonial subjects—irrespective of color—who, rather than perform as ‘foreign practitioners’ in English culture, will make English culture, and especially its literature, seem foreign.” In suggesting that Conrad’s fiction “serves as an important starting point for a non-western understanding of the west” and is followed by other works such as those by “G. V. Desani, Samuel Selvon, V. S. Naipaul . . . [and] Salman Rushdie,” George elides the vast differences between these writers. Rushdie, for instance, consciously defines himself against Naipaul. Moreover, the notion of such a literary continuum ignores the historical shifts after decolonization. The homelessness of Meena in Meera Syal’s Anita and Me or Karim in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia cannot be compared to that encountered by Selvon’s Lonely Londoners.
Perhaps more problematic is George’s decision to devote an entire chapter to that infamous essay by Fredric Jameson, “Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism.” Her questions about the essay are valid ones; for instance, she asks “how do ‘we’ read, understand or participate in resistive texts produced from locations other than our own?” Such concerns, however, were more than adequately addressed in Aijaz Ahmad’s famous rejoinder to Jameson. George correctly points out Jameson’s “inability to theorize the self in [End Page 472] terms in which one is ready to theorize others,” but that is an...