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Gender and narrative in the postcolonial nation
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Why is the nation in a post-colonial world so often seen as a motherland? This study explores the relationship between gender icons and foundational fictions of the nation in different post-colonial spaces. The author's work on the intersections between independence, nationalism and gender has already proved canonical in the field. This book combines her keynote essays on the mother figure and the post-colonial nation with new work on male autobiography, ‘daughter’ writers, the colonial body, the trauma of the post-colony and the nation in a transnational context. Focusing on Africa as well as South Asia, and sexuality as well as gender, the author offers close readings of writers ranging from Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri and Nelson Mandela to Arundhati Roy and Yvonne Vera, shaping these into a critical engagement with theorists of the nation such as Fredric Jameson and Partha Chatterjee. Moving beyond cynical deconstructions of the post-colony, the book mounts a reassessment of the post-colonial nation as a site of potential empowerment, as a ‘paradoxical refuge’ in a globalised world. It acts on its own impassioned argument that post-colonial and nation-state studies address substantively issues hitherto raised chiefly within international feminism.

Elleke Boehmer
in ‘War on terror’
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The adolescent girl and the nation
Elleke Boehmer

This chapter examines how three very different post-colonial women writers have written themselves into the national family script, or redrafted the daughter's relationship to the national father. The novels in question are: the expatriate Australian Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children (1940); the Nigerian-born London writer Buchi Emecheta's Destination Biafra (1982); and the American-born Canadian Carol Shields's Unless (2002). The chapter focuses on the daughter's position in the three novels relative to the family, tradition or community, where these structures are in each case figured as analogous to or integrated with the nation, thus approaching the narratives as gender and nationalist theories-in-text. Yet, despite their varying determinations, all three are distinguished by their preoccupation with daughterhood. Towards setting up the comparative frame, the gender roles inscribed within the national family drama can be further elaborated by drawing on Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm (1883) as an interpretative paradigm.

in Stories of women
Open Access (free)
Colonial body into postcolonial narrative
Elleke Boehmer

The silenced and wounded body of the colonised is a pervasive figure in colonial and post-colonial discourses, although its valencies obviously shift with the transition from colonial into post-colonial history. In the post-colonial process of rewriting, certainly, the trope of the dumb, oppressed body undergoes significant translations or transfigurations. In Maru (1971), a novelistic indictment of intra-black racism, the South African writer Bessie Head stakes out a number of epigraphic moments with which to begin the discussion. This chapter explores post-colonial retrieval of the figure of the native body in colonial discourse and unpicks the complex interconnections between colonialism, nationalism, hysteria, gender and sexuality. It concentrates in particular on post-colonial attempts – by Nuruddin Farah, Bessie Head and Michelle Cliff, among others – to recuperate or transfigure the native/colonised body by way of the ‘talking cure’ of narrative.

in Stories of women
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Ben Okri, Chenjerai Hove, Dambudzo Marechera
Elleke Boehmer

The first, post-1945 phase of anti-colonial nationalism in Africa, as in other colonised regions, was distinguished by literal belief structures: a strong, teleological faith in the actual existence of the nation as ‘people’, and the sense that history essentially unfolded as a process of that nation's coming-into-being. There was a belief, too, in Africa as in South Asia, as in the Caribbean, that the distinctive forms of modernity, in this case in particular the sovereign state, could be incorporated, indigenised, repatriated. These may seem at face value rather obvious statements to make about nationalism, which broadly demands some form of belief in the national entity and acts of loyalty expressed towards it. This chapter investigates the self-interpellation and self-inscription of second-generation male writers as indifferently national subjects. The Zimbabwean writers Chenjerai Hove and Dambudzo Marechera, and the British-resident Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri, experiment with metaphor, nightmare and fetish as the signifiers of a national reality, as opposed to viewing the nation as literal truth. The post-colony here becomes phantasmagoria and malaise.

in Stories of women
Open Access (free)
Where postcolonialism is neo-orientalist – the cases of Sarojini Naidu and Arundhati Roy
Elleke Boehmer

This chapter on post-colonialism as neo-orientalist explores the colonialist filiations underlying post-independence representations of the colonised body, especially the female body. A study of the fin-de-siècle construction of Sarojini Naidu as Indian female poet in the 1890s, and of the literary and publishing phenomenon of Arundhati Roy in the 1990s, explores how, in almost imperceptible ways, the past of colonial discourse repeats itself upon the present that is post-colonial criticism. Here, too, the reified female body is a central, governing emblem. What is especially striking about the parallel instances of Naidu and Roy is how the several interconnections converge in the notions, on the one hand, of lyric complexity and emotional intensity, and, on the other, of singular femaleness. In the case of Naidu, this convergence is also explicitly tied in with her being oriental, and her explicitly orientalised poetry. The chapter also considers in broader terms the neo-orientalist underpinnings of post-colonial literary criticism from the west, based in part on its location in the neo-imperialist centre, and complicatedly manifested in the increasing prominence accorded Third World women writers.

in Stories of women
The inflection of desire in Yvonne Vera and Tsitsi Dangarembga
Elleke Boehmer

This chapter extends the discussion of the interrelationship of gender and nation into an area rarely mentioned if not taboo in discourses both colonial and post-colonial, namely, the same-sex desire of women. By evoking women's unruly, erotic yearnings, the two prominent Zimbabwean writers Tsitsi Dangarembga and Yvonne Vera explore the libidinal energies that exceed, or leak out between the fractures of, the conservative post-colonial state. Queer sexuality, in point of fact, probably still constitutes what could best be termed a virtual non-presence, or at least a covert silencing, an ‘unsaying’, in post-colonial discourses generally and in African writing in particular. It is a surprising omission or occlusion considering that, since the 1960s, post-colonial theory and criticism have grown up in tandem with the emergence of a politics of identity and cultural difference, and are deeply informed by discourses of rights and of resistance to a variety of forms of oppression.

in Stories of women
Open Access (free)
Postcolonial women writers in a transnational frame
Elleke Boehmer

This chapter returns to the question of how women writers, specifically of a younger generation, theorise and re-emblematise the nation in their work. Whereas some women writers choose to distance themselves from the nation as extraneous to their concerns, Yvonne Vera and Arundhati Roy are representative of a subtly different approach. In the face of neocolonial disillusionment and the erasures of identity threatened by globalisation, they extend the ‘revisionary scepticism’ concerning the homogenising nation they share with their male counterparts, yet strategically play off its different narratives – of patriliny and matriliny, of modernity and tradition – against one another. Avoiding the stance of spokesperson and the all-commanding epic voice, they reframe the male-defined co-ordinates of national selfhood in relation to other modes of situating identity, such as those of region, environment, belief and sexuality, without however refusing the nation altogether. The chapter also offers an intertextual commentary on Roy's first and to date only novel, The God of Small Things, and of her non-fictional polemic against transnationalism.

in Stories of women
Open Access (free)
Defining the nation differently
Elleke Boehmer

In some notable instances, women writers work to transform the male lineaments of the post-colonial nation. In others, they attempt merely to decipher and to modify its structures of privilege. Although the topics and texts discussed in this book have varied widely, the foregoing chapters have been linked by their shared concern with the strategies used by novel writers, women but also men, to recast the colonial and patriarchal symbolic legacies embedded in many versions of post-independence nationalism. A reading of the Indian writer Manju Kapur's first two novels focusing on Partition and the Ayodhya crisis, decisive moments in India's national story, closes this study, developing further the idea of the redemptive nation as a countervailing space for women as against the threats posed by communalism. The novels are Difficult Daughters (1998) and A Married Woman (2003).

in Stories of women
Open Access (free)
Elleke Boehmer

This book argues that literary texts – here especially novels and autobiographies – are central vehicles in the imaginative construction of new nations, and that gender plays a central, formative role in that construction. Post-colonial nationalist identities, iconographies and traditions are refracted through gender-tagged concepts of power, leadership, lineage and filiation, including, for instance, maternal images of nurturing and service. Developing these ideas, the book considers how national father/son and mother figures were used in the independence era to imagine the nation into being. It also shows that gendered, predominantly familial (patriarchal), forms have been invoked, paradoxically, to imagine post-colonial nations into being, and that, reciprocally, constructions of the nation in fiction and other discourses are differentially marked by masculine and feminine systems of value. Finally, the book explores community, nationality, subjectivity, sexuality or the native body.

in Stories of women