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Riddles of Belonging

India in Translation and Other Tales of Possession

Christi Merrill

Publication Year: 2008

Can the subaltern joke? Christi A. Merrill answers by invoking riddling, oral-based fictions from Hindi, Rajasthani, Sanskrit, and Urdu that dare to laugh at what traditions often keep hidden-whether spouse abuse, ethnic violence, or the uncertain legacies of a divinely wrought sex change. Herself a skilled translator, Merrill uses these examples to investigate the expectation that translated work should allow the non-English-speaking subaltern to speak directly to the English-speaking reader. She plays with the trope of speaking to argue against treating a translated text as property, as a singular material object to be carried across(as trans-latus implies.) She refigures translation as a performative telling in turn,from the Hindi word anuvad, to explain how a text might be multiply possessed. She thereby challenges the distinction between originaland derivative,fundamental to nationalist and literary discourse, humoring our melancholic fixation on what is lost. Instead, she offers strategies for playing along with the subversive wit found in translated texts. Sly jokes and spirited double entendres, she suggests, require equally spirited double hearings.The playful lessons offered by these narratives provide insight into the networks of transnational relations connecting us across a sea of differences. Generations of multilingual audiences in India have been navigating this Ocean of the Stream of Storiessince before the 11th century, arriving at a fluid sense of commonality across languages. Salman Rushdie is not the first to pose crucial questions of belonging by telling a version of this narrative: the work of non-English-language writers like Vijay Dan Detha, whose tales are at the core of this book, asks what responsibilities we have to make the rights and wrongs of these fictions come alive age after age.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xv

Riddles of Belonging started with translation riddles posed by the stories of Vijay Dan Detha; I am grateful to him for the rare aesthetic and political sensibility he brings to his work, which has so inspired me over the years, and for his unfailing enthusiasm in encouraging my attempts to do the stories...

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Can the Subaltern Joke? (to open)

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pp. 1-15

People say that on one of his later visits to England leading up to Independence, M. K. Gandhi was asked by a reporter, “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of British civilization?” In past speeches and interviews, Gandhi had been quite critical of Western modernity as a capitalist, industrialist system, especially as exported to the Indian...

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One: Humoring the Melancholic Reader of World Literature

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pp. 16-43

If in the previous chapter I argue that we must join in the games others play, in this chapter I do one better—by beginning with a riddling tale of translation. The story I have in mind is of origins so obscure that I am sure few know it; I turn to it here merely because the provocative questions it...

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Two: A Telling Example

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pp. 44-104

Few stories in contemporary cultural criticism have been more compelling, it would seem, than those that assert a people has been silenced. Often these narratives are delivered in such stark, life-and-death terms that the audience is left with little room to engage dispassionately with the details...

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Three: Framed

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pp. 105-167

Detha’s version of the story of the switched heads provokes a fundamental question: What ethical landscape does a community map for itself in its very framing devices? Common sense tells us that the exercise of translating a story as a telling requires in turn that members of a community...

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Four: A Divided Sense

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pp. 168-204

How do we map those acts of literary exchange that take place across languages? Pollock might champion the idea that in the Sanskrit cosmopolis the site of power was “nowhere in particular,” but in the world where we live today, if the mother tongue you write in is Rajasthani or Gīkūyū , having your work sited “nowhere in particular”...

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Five: Passing On

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pp. 205-244

We could address the riddles raised in the previous chapter a little differently and ask: If we are interested in articulating a more complex “dialectic of difference” in our reading of world literature, which differences should we decide to address (and even redress) in our evaluations of a text? What...

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Six: Narration in Ghost Time

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pp. 245-285

If we decide to read these playful, oral-based ghost stories about injustice as stories not of transition but instead of translation (following Chakrabarty’s suggestion in Provincializing Europe), then how do we understand the narrative relationship of these spirits and specters to one another as they are told...

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A Double Hearing (to close)

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pp. 286-296

If I started the book with a real-life tale of triangular, spirited exchange, I end with another, one that I admit riddles me even more than the first. It is February 11, 2003, and I have come to a town in Rajasthan named Beawar at Shankar Singh’s invitation to witness for myself one of the public hearings regularly sponsored by Mazdoor-Kisan...


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pp. 297-338

Works Cited

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pp. 339-362


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pp. 363-380

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247080
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823229550
Print-ISBN-10: 0823229556

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2008