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Making Words Matter

The Agency of Colonial and Postcolonial Literature

Ambreen Hai

Publication Year: 2009

Why should Salman Rushdie describe his truth telling as an act of swallowing impure “haram“ flesh from which the blood has not been drained? Why should Rudyard Kipling cast Kim, the imperial child–agent, as a body/text written upon and damaged by empire? Why should E. M. Forster evoke through the Indian landscape the otherwise unspeakable racial or homosexual body in his writing? In Making Words Matter: The Agency of Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Ambreen Hai argues that these writers focus self–reflectively on the unstable capacity of words to have material effects and to be censored, and that this central concern with literary agency is embedded in, indeed definitive of, colonial and postcolonial literature.

Making Words Matter contends that the figure of the human body is central to the self–imagining of the text in the world because the body uniquely concretizes three dimensions of agency: it is at once the site of autonomy, instrumentality, and subjection. Hai’s work exemplifies a new trend in postcolonial studies: to combine aesthetics and politics and to offer a historically and theoretically informed mode of interpretation that is sophisticated, lucid, and accessible.

This is the first study to identify and examine the rich convergence of issues and to chart their dynamic. Hai opens up the field of postcolonial literary studies to fresh questions, engaging knowledgeably with earlier scholarship and drawing on interdisciplinary theory to read both well known and lesser–known texts in a new light. It should be of interest internationally to students and scholars in a variety of fields including British, Victorian, modernist, colonial, or postcolonial literary studies, queer or cultural studies, South Asian studies, history, and anthropology.

Published by: Ohio University Press


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Title page copyright page

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Much of this book took shape while I have been teaching at Smith College, and I am grateful for Smith’s generous leave policy, which allowed me to research and write new material and revise over the course of two separate yearlong sabbaticals. I would also like to thank the office of the dean of faculty at Smith and the Jean Picker Fellowship Program, which granted me valuable ...

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INTRODUCTION. The Unspeakable Body of the Tale

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pp. 1-28

... abstract painting Muhammad (circa 1958; see frontispiece), a human figure sits facing sideways, silhouetted against blazing red flames, gazing meditatively at the curling tongues of a fire that appears to emanate both from him and beyond him.2 A viewer unfamiliar with Arabic script may not realize that this geometrically shaped figure also is (or figures) the calligraphic inscription of a sacred word, ...

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CHAPTER ONE. Children of an Other Language: Kipling’s Stories as Interracial Progeny

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pp. 29-57

... of his popularity in 1892, in a short reminiscence entitled “My First Book,” Kipling describes his first publication as his firstborn child: “But I loved it best when it was a little brown baby with a pink string round its stomach; a child’s child, ignorant that it was afflicted with all the most modern ailments; and before people had learned, beyond ...

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CHAPTER TWO. The Doubleness of Writing (in) Kim, or, The Art of Empire

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pp. 58-96

... Kipling’s most important novel, begins with a pronoun that does not identify its subject by name: “He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun, Zam-Zammah,” a gun from which, we discover, “he” had triumphantly ousted both the native Hindu and the Muslim boys.1Why does it take Kipling a while to name Kim, the apparent ...

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CHAPTER THREE. Forster’s Crisis: The Intractable Body and Two Passages to India, 1910–22

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pp. 97-150

... at age thirty-one, E. M. Forster had published many short stories and four novels, in a brief span of six years.2 Yet at this point of high acclaim and expectation, Forster hit a block. Between 1910 and 1924—when he published A Passage to India, his most successful but last novel—there remained an unexplained gap in his novelistic career, a peculiar silence, a knotty difficulty that seemed to stymie this strangely promising ...

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CHAPTER FOUR. At the Mouth of the Caves: A Passage to India and the Language of Re-vision

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pp. 151-203

...the year that Forster wrote “The Life to Come” and resumed A Passage to India, he also wrote a short essay entitled “Pan.”1 Impelled by many of the concerns that underlie both the story and the novel, this essay offers a whimsical disquisition on the green leaf pan, or the Indian condiment (pronounced “paan”). Punning on the name of Forster’s favorite Greek god, it recalls his important first story, “The Story of a Panic,” in ...

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CHAPTER FIVE. From a Full Stop to a Language: Rushdie’s Bodily Idiom

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pp. 204-264

... the end of A Passage to India, when Dr. Aziz is asked to contribute a poem to help build a “Hindu-Muslim entente,” he wonders whether he might more appropriately write a prescription instead (296–97). But Forster suggests that a poem would work a better cure. Indeed, Aziz longs “to compose a new song which should be acclaimed by multitudes ...

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CHAPTER SIX. When Truth Is What It Is Told to Be: Rushdie’s Storytelling, Dreams, and Endings

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pp. 265-311

... hocked by the partition of time as well as of country, when Indian standard time is set half an hour ahead of Pakistan’s,Mr. Butt, Saleem’s father’s friend, exclaims, “If they can change the time just like that, what’s real anymore? I ask you?What’s true?” (MC, 90). His question resonates in this text as it voices the trauma of loss, of finding truth, language ...

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EPILOGUE. The Body as the Basis for Literary Agency: South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean

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pp. 312-326

... originally began as an investigation of the self-referentiality of colonial and postcolonial writing. When I undertook graduate study, it was a literary commonplace that postmodern writing was self-referential, self-aware, and self-ironic—usually in positively valorized ways—as was the kind of cosmopolitan postcolonial writing exemplified ...


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pp. 327-360


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pp. 361-372


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pp. 373-377

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443347
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821418819

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 758542931
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Making Words Matter

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Subject Headings

  • Postcolonialism in literature.
  • South Asia -- In literature.
  • Human body in literature.
  • Colonies in literature.
  • Commonwealth fiction (English) -- History and criticism.
  • Rushdie, Salman -- Literary style.
  • Kipling, Rudyard, 1865-1936 -- Literary style.
  • Forster, E. M. 1879-1970 (Edward Morgan), -- Literary style.
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