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Masquerading in the Margins: The Figure of the Bystander in South Asian Literature


· Debjani Banerjee New Jersey Institute of Technology (Newark, New Jersey, United States of America)


07/26 | 15:50-16:10 UTC+2/CEST


In literary studies, margins have traditionally been perceived as powerful spaces where “discursive liminality provides greater scope for strategic manipulation” (Bhabha 1994) of the center and allow readers to conceptualize identity formations beyond categories organized around the nation State. With the steady erosion of democratic principles across the world today, Homi Bhabha’s theoretical formulations about the potentialities of margins merit reconsideration. This paper demonstrates the ways in which the margins, once considered sites of resistance, have become co-opted by majoritarian discourses across nation states in South Asia. Through a reading of South Asian diasporic literature, this paper will identify the ideological moments that majoritarian discourses underpin in order to occupy the margins; focusing on The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam, The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay and Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Naomi Munaweera, the paper argues that the junctures when majoritarian discourses, electoral arithmetic, state power are aligned, the mask created through marginal rhetoric slips. The central problematic of my paper is represented by the gendered figure of the bystander who challenges the masquerade of majoritarianism. Can the readings of these texts offer possibilities of new forms of political engagement for women through destabilizing the center-margin dyad and displacing the hegemonic apparatus of value coding? By addressing this question and its subsets, my paper examines power contestation in contemporary South Asia, draws attention to the ideological histories of spaces as well as the conflicted relationship between the center and the margins.