Heartless or Broken-hearted? Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Film and Fiction

by Claire Chambers Today is the anniversary of 70 years of Pakistan, and tomorrow it will be Indians' turn to celebrate their nation's Independence Day. I recently wrote about South Asian cultural production that portrays Nehru, the Mountbattens, and the Edwina-Jawaharlal relationship or affair. Today I turn my attention to depictions of the Quaid-i-Azam or…

Islamicate Literature, Literary Theory, and Criticism

by Claire Chambers In discussions of postcolonial and diasporic literature, questions of faith and religious identity have until recently tended to be subsumed under such categories as ethnicity, nationality, hybridity, and race. Rae Isles, a character who lectures on Middle Eastern politics in Leila Aboulela's The Translator, accordingly asserts: 'Even Fanon, who I have always…

The Real Deal: Authenticity in Literature and Culture

Authenticity is a term that often comes up in postcolonialism and especially my own subdiscipline of Muslim literary studies. But what does it mean to be authentic, and is the quest for authenticity a productive or stifling one? A fetishization of authenticity can trap apparently ‘authentic’ cultures in picturesque poverty and a pastoral past that never existed, ignoring their plural present. The anti-authenticity stance can also be challenged on academic grounds, because what is research if not a process of authentication? Authenticity cannot be so easily dismissed as a discourse of power, since it is one in the service of knowledge too.

Fight the Bannonality of Evil

by Claire Chambers In her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt argues that there is nothing in evil that is radical or lucid. Instead, she claims, even the most extreme evil is senseless and banal. Amos Elon summarized Arendt's argument in terms that cannot but resonate with the current political circumstances in the United…

A Permissive Circle: World Literature and Zumba Dance

​If you’ve ever read my blog posts for 3 Quarks Daily or columns for Dawn’s Books & Authors section, you will know me for my criticism of world literature. But as it’s the holidays, I want to write about something more frivolous. I have a confession to make: as well as being a lecturer in global literature, for the last five years I have also moonlighted as a Beto Perez and ZumbaZumba instructor.

The State We’re In: Global Higher Education

by Claire Chambers The current volatile state of global higher education raises urgent questions. Student protests broke out at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in March 2015. These demonstrations initially called to remove the statue of the racist imperialist Cecil Rhodes from campus. As Rachael Gilmour explains, the ejection of Rhodes's statue was…

‘Home Had Come Here’: Connective Dissonance and Split Selves in Leila Aboulela’s “The Translator” and Elif Shafak’s “Honour”

by Claire Chambers Leila Aboulela's debut novel The Translator (1999) is about a love affair between a Sudanese translator, Sammar, and her employer, the Scottish lecturer Rae Isles. Turkish novelist Elif Shafak similarly handles various transcultural love affairs in her 2012 novel Honour, but is more concerned with their darker aspects of jealousy and disgrace.…

‘Made-in-India Othello Fellows’: Indian Adaptations of Othello

by Claire Chambers I recently wrote an essay for Dawn on general postcolonial rewritings of Shakespeare's Othello. For the present column, I turn to what Ania Loomba has called 'the made-in-India Othello fellows'. In other words, I am interested in those Indian writers who, from Henry Louis Vivian Derozio onwards, have looked to this play…

Torturing the Other: Who is the Barbarian?

Iin light of the examination of the issue of torture in J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians and Moazzam Begg’s autobiography Enemy Combatant, this essay discusses Elaine Scarry’s and Tzvetan Todorov’s evaluation of the fallout caused by the torture of the Other.

Banglaphone Fiction III

by Claire Chambers Something rather different comes out of fiction by three Bengali women writers based in Britain, as compared to the male authors I examined in Banglaphone Fiction I and II. In this third and final part of the essay, I first examine Monica Ali who, in her novel Brick Lane, mostly evokes life…

Banglaphone Fiction II

by Claire Chambers In this post, I continue my discussion of what I'm calling ‘Banglaphone Fiction', namely short stories and novels written in English and dealing with life in Britain by authors from the two Bengals. I am interested in how both Hindu Indian and Bangladeshi Muslim writers perceive the UK and its migrant population.…

Banglaphone Fiction I

In the 1940s, around the time that the British Raj was disintegrating, Bengalis were coming to Britain in Lascars large numbers. (Smaller numbers had travelled to the country from as long ago as the seventeenth century onwards.) Many of them hailed from Sylhet in what is now northeast Bangladesh. Some of these new residents had previously been lascars, working on the crews of ships or as cooks. Settling in areas such as East London’s Spitalfields, Sylhetis pioneered Britain’s emerging curry restaurant trade, laboured for long hours and with few rights in the garment industry, and worked as mechanics. This article is about their representation in fiction by writers with heritage in both West (majority Hindu) Bengal, and Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country.

Freedom as Floating or Falling

by Claire Chambers Nine days after 9/11, on 20 September 2001, President George W. Bush responded to the World Trade Centre attacks by addressing a joint session of Congress. He lamented that in the space of a 'single day' the country had been changed irrevocably, its people 'awakened to danger and called to defend freedom'.…